The Parent Gap

As a kid, my parents weren’t that involved in church. There was a time when half of my family had some friends in church and did some stuff around the church. But by and large I was the church-e-est of the bunch from about 5th grade until now.

I think my reality as a high school student has peppered my entire career in youth ministry.

  • We are paid by, and charged to serve, the needs of 5% of the population who pay our salary.
  • We are called by, and charged by Jesus, to reach the 95% of the populations with our very lives. (Romans 12:1)

It’s not truly an either or situation. It isn’t that you need to make a choice to only serve Christian families or only serve non-Christian families.

Yet it is that you need to bear in mind that your youth ministry can’t assume that every family is like your “best” Christian families. My parents were actually very supportive of my church-life. They drove me to stuff. They paid for stuff. And even though they were only passively interested in the Christian life for themselves, they were highly appreciative that men and women were investing in my faith development.

Ultimately, Christian families aren’t your primary target audience. God is holding them responsible for their faith development of their children. Research shows that the biggest influence on the faith development of a child growing up in a Christian home is the parent… not the church. (No matter how cool the youth pastor is.)

How can we expect students who aren’t from Christian homes to bridge that gap and be a part of a ministry with constant parental involvement demands? That’s just not realistic.

To reach more people we don’t need a new program. We need a new strategy.


  1. Am I just off my rocker here?
  2. What are some ways you’ve had success engaging the general parent population in your community?
  3. Do you see Christian parents in your ministry as those you serve or those you empower to reach their peers with the Gospel?
  4. How do you, as a youth pastor or youth ministry volunteer, hold Christian parents of teenagers accountable to their responsibilities in the home?





6 responses to “The Parent Gap”

  1. jeff greathouse Avatar

    Love the article and the questions that you ask. I agree with everything (bessides the %). do you really think that in most areas, it is 5% ??

    1. adam mclane Avatar

      I’d encourage you to call every church in your zip code, ask them for last weeks actual attendance, divide by how many people live in your zip code. When I did this in Romeo, it was 2%.

  2. Sara Avatar

    SO GOOD!! This is something I struggled with constantly when I was working in the church but I never heard others talk about it so I wondered if I was the only one dealing with it. I wish I had a list of brilliant solutions that worked for us. I’m hoping others will comment with ideas I can steal!! 🙂

  3. doug Avatar

    on point, sir.
    the measure of a succesful youth/student ministry is usually based on the number of regular attenders. and those kids are usually harvested from families who already have a connection to that church, or are “borrowed/stolen” from another church.
    a better vision for a student ministry sees beyond the walls of their own church, and beyond that to the world that doesn’t know God; or perhaps harder still, to those who know God, but have been alienated from the church (they don’t look like or act like us)
    Our church is blessed to have a student pastor who knows this, but constantly deals with the swimming upstream phenomonon.
    How powerful to have a student ministry whose students were bringing their non-christian parents into fellowship?
    How powerful to have a student ministry that reached out beyond the walls of its’ church to reach students– and adults– who never felt welcome there before (cast offs becasue of money, culture, sexuality issues)?
    How powerful for the underaged 5% to be going after the adult 95%?

    Students who are susceptbile to peer pressure are also some of the most Holy Spirit susceptible people i know.
    And their passion and enthusiasm are a huge source of energy for those who choose to feed off of it.
    trouble is, most of us channel their enthusiasm into something that looks like an established program.
    they make us look complacent, so we “quench the spirit,” telling them they are just going through a phase.
    We should be supporting them, following them; instead, we channel them into our mold of church life… and in so doing, squeeze the life out of some of them.

    High schools, colleges, and prisons are perhaps the three places where i have witnessed people most willing to live up to their calling, to live radically different lives for their cause, including Kingdom cause.
    and those three places are the last three places on earth that most any church going adult (non-felons, that is) are comfortable.

    So we let our churches be driven by the rest of us (me and my friends, the 5%’ers) who are pretty much stuck in a practice that identifies a church as a building;
    And so we spend so much time wrestling with the budget dilemmas created by the debt incurred for that building, that we have too little time left to learn how to live like Christ by loving those loved by Christ, especially those we label as “non-Christians.” (that would be the 95%’ers)

  4. Daren Mitchell Avatar
    Daren Mitchell

    I completely agree with this assessment. I am a 20 year veteran of youth ministry with a Bachelors degree in youth ministry, and I just resigned from my ministry with no job in the works, because I’m so stinking frustrated with our dependency on programs and activity. Because I stay so busy keeping up with all the crap that has to be done so that our kids can do stuff, I’m not able to build relationships with families with the intent to mentor dads to be the Spiritual heroes in their home. And in my season of life, mid-40s, I need to mentor and train younger dads, not dads my age. The older guys, like our elders, need to be mentoring and training guys my age. But we don’t focus on building relationships with each other, we focus on doing crap in our buildings. Does anyone hear me?

  5. […] Recently, I posted about a conversation a few others were having about a new strategy for discipleship and church growth (the original posted can be found here Adam McLane). Within the blog post and ensuing conversation, I commented some of my thoughts to the blogger of the original post… I thought it would be helpful if I shared my thoughts on the conversation. Also, this whole conversation started with a blog post he did on reaching parents of students – The Parent Gap. […]

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