How to respond to parents' questions
A week ago, I held a logistics meeting for our combined junior high and high school mission trip. This is an interesting trip because it's filled with a mix of students, some of whom are going on their first ever mission trip; Others who are veteran mission trip participants who have gone on 6-7 trips.
The same is true of their parents. Some have sent their teens to other countries with our youth ministry; Others have never sent them to an event outside our church's zip code.
The goal of our logistics meeting is to calm parents' fears and answer their questions. To do this, we go through the trip details in order to show parents we've thought about every aspect of the coming trip. Attention to details instills confidence in our ministry. So, too, does a willingness to answer any question, regardless of how trivial it might seem to you. To that end, at the end of the meeting, we give parents an opportunity to ask anything.
Our recent meeting was one in which there were questions... Lots of questions.
Parents wanted to know details about the schedule and about the menu. They wanted to know how we'd ensure their kids drank enough water and got enough rest.
As I answered parents' questions, I felt like I was living out a scene from my favorite TV show, The West Wing. In Season 7, there's a serious accident at the San Andreo nuclear power plant. The accident is a disaster for the Republican Presidential Candidate Arnold Vinick, who repeatedly affirmed nuclear power was safe. After the accident, which occurs in his home state, Vinick finds himself in the hot seat. His campaign staff wants to shield him from the press. Instead, he holds a press conference in which he keeps answering their questions until none remain. The press conference puts the story to rest and restores people's confidence in Vinick.
As youth workers, there's a lot we can learn from this scene.
Rather than allow questions to terrify you, recognize they demonstrate interest and engagement. They reflect parents' love for their children. They also demonstrate their underlying concern: “How do I know I can trust you with my kid?”
When you take the time to thoughtfully respond to people's questions – whether they are about the details of a mission trip, philosophy of ministry, or upcoming retreat plans – they show parents you care. Just as Vinick seized the opportunity to educate people about nuclear power, questions give you a chance to educate people about your ministry. Thoughtful responses to questions give you the chance to show your heart and explain your vision.
So don't run from questions, however hard they may be. Instead, face them, head-on. Do your homework ahead of time to anticipate people's questions and have knowledgable answers prepared. Be honest when you don't know the answer to something but vow to find out the answer when a question leaves you stymied (and then make sure you actually do!)
When you take time to listen to people's questions (and to the concerns that drive them), treat every question as valuable, and thoughtfully respond to them, like Arnold Vinick in The West Wing, you'll give people confidence in you and your ministry.
Trust me, I know. A week ago at our logistics meeting I fielded far more questions than I expected.
But after thoughtfully answering the questions, even those parents who arrived concerned about the upcoming trip left excited to see what God will do in and through it.