A regular rhythm that has dramatically increased my communication with and ministry to parents of youth has been the habit of sending a weekly newsletter. Over the past number of years, creating this email has become something of a spiritual discipline for me. It’s a time when I pray for students and their parents, calling to mind the events and conversations of the past week and looking for themes to highlight or explore.
In my experience, parents are looking for voices that will encourage and equip them to parent through the tumultuous teenage years. Many of them feel like they are regularly failing, and fear is a constant companion for almost all. At the same time, parents today find themselves without a lot of time to read parenting books or search the web for sound resources. They may feel they’re parenting on fumes, just getting by from day to day. So a regular communication sent right to their inboxes not only shows that their youth minister is thinking about them, it is an it is an easy way to provide them with needed resources.
Youth ministers occupy a critical middle space between teenagers and parents: Whether we are parents ourselves or not, simply being adults means we can empathize with the concerns and questions parents face; meanwhile, as people who have devoted our lives to discipling younger people, we have a wide range of experiences that can help us interpret what teenagers are going through.
With this in mind, there are three things I hope to accomplish in each of our weekly newsletters to parents. I pray you’ll be encouraged to pursue these same goals in your own communication, and that the following will provide practical help in doing so.
Convey Upcoming Events and Ministry Details
Years ago I had a boss who frequently used the slogan “six weeks, six ways,” to describe effective ministry communication. His point was that in our overly saturated world, it takes people both a length of time and a variety of mediums to internalize information. I have adopted this principle, and the weekly newsletter has become one of my “six ways” for communication.
For example, to communicate an upcoming event or a change in program, I count off the different ways we will communicate. If the parent newsletter is one, then we’ll also need posters around church, an announcement in Sunday’s bulletin, an Instagram post, a pulpit announcement, and a dedicated email or text to students and their parents. Smaller events might not require quite this level of effort (four ways over three or four weeks might do), but the point is that the newsletter becomes a place parents can regularly expect to receive up-to-date calendar information and event specifics. By sending it on the same day and time each week, we help them learn to anticipate this email as their go-to source for information.
Mass email services such as MailChimp and Constant Contact make it simple to design a template that you can repopulate each week with current information. You can even schedule it ahead of time if you’ll be away with students or on vacation. To keep it really simple, I always work from a copy of the previous week’s email, so that I’m not having to reinvent the information shared every week. (For example, if I embed a graphic about an upcoming event, I can continue to run that for several weeks until the event has passed, then delete it once it’s no longer relevant.) Check to see what platform your church is already using for church-wide emails, and find out if you can share the account.
Curate Gospel-Centered Articles and Resources
Each week I find one article about parenting or youth culture to send to the parents on our list. for parents and youth ministers are my top sources for finding articles I can share. (Subscribe to our newsletter at the very bottom of the page to receive these in your inbox each month.) Sometimes this content I select is specifically gospel-centered, focusing on how parents can connect the events of daily life with the Good News that God saves sinners through Christ. Other times it might be a common grace perspective on a cultural phenomenon, like TikTok, or a teenager’s perspective on the environment from The Atlantic or another secular source.
Either way, I first read the piece in its entirety, looking for anything I might want to highlight or clarify. Then I write a brief intro (no more than three paragraphs) in the body of the newsletter explaining why I chose this particular piece and how it connects to our vision of seeing students walk with Jesus. If the piece is something I could imagine families talking about together, I write three or four questions parents can use to start a casual conversation with their teenagers, trying to help them look at the article from a gospel lens. Sometimes I’ll even recommend they read a shorter article together and ask for teenagers’ thoughts around the dinner table or while driving to after-school activities together. ()
Some weeks the article I share is aimed directly at parenting. I try to present these pieces cautiously and with humility, remembering that I’ve never personally parented a teenager! But typically I can find some way to identify with the piece from the perspective of a youth pastor, confessing my own weakness (for example, losing it when I have to ask a student for the fifth time to stop disrupting a small group). Admitting our own fallibility creates a culture in which it’s safe for parents to do the same. It’s also a subtle way of reminding parents that we are on the same team—both in cheering for their kids and in daily needing the grace of the gospel in our sin and failure.
Communicate Your Heart for Students
Over the years, I’ve witnessed a powerful but somewhat hidden fruit of the weekly parent email. As we communicate faithfully, and especially as we touch on the issues parents are coming up against at home, they will begin to trust us and our ministries as a valuable source of counsel, encouragement, and prayer for their families. Most of all, they grow to trust our heart for their students—that we are adults who are regularly observing the deeper parts of teenage development, and that we are voices backing up their own spiritual guidance and wisdom.
A weekly newsletter provides a place to subtly shepherd the parents in our ministries—as my senior pastor says, “to pastor through the pen.” In the short paragraphs I write to accompany the weekly recommended resource, I may share an insight we discussed in high school Sunday school, or draw on a repeated theme from several one-on-one conversations with students. I often try to connect these nuggets to what we see happening in the broader culture. For example, I might talk about the way a group of students has reflected on the pressure they feel to perform in school, sports, the arts, and even church. I then attempt to point parents back to some gospel truth, such as the rest we find in Jesus’ finished performance on our behalf—that can inform the way they engage these conversations at home.
As we share little insights from conversations with students at youth group or Sunday School, we offer parents a window into our world of spiritual formation at church that they might not otherwise see. My prayer is that these windows will help them to connect the dots with behavior or conversations they’re seeing at home, increasing our partnership as they do the difficult but beautiful work of discipling their kids.
If you’re wondering where to begin in (one of ), starting a weekly parent newsletter is a wonderful place to start. Simply by offering up-to-date information, recommending excellent resources, and expressing your heart for students week after week, you will begin to build the kind of gospel partnership that makes a tremendous difference in discipling teenagers.