On Reaching Out to your Students’ Parents and Inviting them In
If there is one source of complaint or repeated question I can expect to hear at every conference or event I speak at, it is parents. Many parents bring their children to religious education, but they don’t bring them to Mass. They want us to teach their kids about the Catholic faith so they learn to be good people and receive the sacraments. Yet it can feel like many parents do not support what we do in class.
Sometimes these conversations about parents are filled with anger and resentment. I get it. I know it’s frustrating.
Here’s the thing I always say to people about these parents: Forgive them. Forgive them for not doing enough. Forgive them for not knowing what to do. They are bringing their kids to you for help. So help them.
The Syrophoenician woman who came to Jesus in the Gospel was seeking healing. She says, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25). But she doesn’t want healing for herself; she wants healing for her daughter. Likewise, the parents of your students want your help. Let’s help them.
You and I are missionary disciples. Our mission may seem limited to the students in your classes, but I assure you, it is not. Our mission is to evangelize and catechize students and their parents. The Church sends us forth to reach the parents. First, we forgive them, and then we serve them. To help them, let’s remind ourselves what Pope Francis defines as a missionary disciple:
Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries,” but rather that we are “missionary disciples” (Evangelii Gaudium, 120).
Our personal encounter with Christ comes first, and then the encounter with others. We experience the love of Christ, and then we go forth to share that love with others.
Parents who don’t come to Mass or who do not know how to share their Catholic faith with their kids at home have not experienced a deeply transformative encounter with Christ. Here is the hard truth: you may be the only one in the parish in a position to invite them into this encounter.
This is your number-one strategy when it comes to evangelizing parents: invite. Invite them to Mass, and invite them to class.
Invite Parents to Mass
In your conversations and communications with parents, explain why you love coming to Mass. What is it that you look forward to each week? What was it about the last Sunday’s Mass that has you thinking? Share these stories and testimonies with the parents. Give them a reason to want to come to Mass.
Look for special opportunities to invite the parents to Mass. This might be a special week in the liturgical year, a particularly great Gospel reading, or a time of year like the middle of winter when stress piles up and some spiritual sustenance is needed most.
Invite them to meet as a class after Mass. Pick a pancake breakfast weekend or donut Sunday and reserve a table or space in the gathering area just for your class. You can also just pick any weekend and host your own post-Mass gathering. Get to know the parents on a personal level and allow them to see and talk with one another, as well.
Invite Parents to Class
Do you organize the students into groups or centers to complete their work? Periodically invite the parents to come in to help lead these groups.
Invite the parents to stay for prayer instead of just dropping off their students. Have an assignment for the children to do with their parents while you wait for the entire class to arrive. Give the parents handouts to follow along with the prayer and thank them for staying. You can also invite them to pick up their kids a little early so they can join the class for closing prayer.
Keep Extending Invitations
The invitations don’t have to stop here. Share the prayers and devotions the students are learning in class. Invite the parents to pray them at home with their children. Send home discussion questions to guide conversations between parents and their kids. Invite the parents to read articles or watch inspirational Catholic YouTube videos related to what the students are learning in class.
Make this your motto when it comes to evangelizing parents: invite, invite, invite. Eventually they may experience an encounter with Christ that transforms their lives.
JARED DEES is the creator of TheReligionTeacher.com and the author of 31 Days to Becoming a Better Religious Educator.
PHOTO: GEORGE MARTELL/BAYARD
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, April-May, 2018.