By Mary Hernandez, Petrus Blog Contributor
Engaging Parents in Campus Ministry
College campus ministries across the country are working feverishly to welcome their flock of new and returning students. If we haven't thought of extending our hospitality to good ‘ole mom and dad, we should.
Once engaged with your mission, parents can become your ministry's biggest fan and promote it in their hometown and community. They can serve as dedicated prayer warriors, storming heaven for the students and ministry team. Parents can also provide vital financial support by supporting your mission with a monthly gift or funding a particular initiative.
First, a Proper Introduction
You may have an opportunity to meet new parents during a campus visit or by hosting an open house during move-in weekend, but by and large, you will introduce your ministry through mail or email.
Each semester should begin with a student registration process so that your Catholic center can acquire students' contact information. College students move often, and you'll save yourself some data upkeep in asking for a "permanent home address" in place of, or in addition to, their local address. Take the vital extra step and ask for their Parents' (and even grandparents') names and addresses. Asking for their email and phone number is even better!
Prepare in advance to have volunteers or staff ready to input your newly acquired student and parent data and begin to strategize your introduction. Let it be exciting, informative, mission-focused, and above all, personal. Parents send their beloved children to you; they want to know who you are, not just what you do. Your letter or email can be an excellent opportunity for new parents to meet your clergy, campus ministers, and others with whom students will directly interact, as well as learning about the vibrant programs, Sacraments, and community events available to them. A personal letter from the Pastor gives parents a sense of place in your community, even if they are hundreds or thousands of miles away. Share your mission in a meaningful way, and hold off on asking them for financial support in this initial communication.
Pro Tip: Does your database enable you to indicate the student's expected graduation year so that you know when to move a student from "current" to "alumni" status? Tracking the status of students and parents is essential when planning future communications. These lists will build through each four-year cycle enabling you to reach more parents with various communications over time.
Do stop by for a visit!
When parents finally get the chance to visit the Catholic center, it is the pinnacle opportunity for engagement! Here are a few ways you can offer them a gracious welcome without overworking your already busy ministry staff or spending a lot of money. Follow up with parents with a simple thank you call and let them know about the next opportunity to visit.
Offer an Open House during Move-in Weekend
Fall semester move-in weekend is a hectic time for families and can still be a great opportunity to invite them to join you for Mass, meet the Pastor and Campus Ministers, and enjoy a cool glass of lemonade or sweet tea. At Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Student Center in Lafayette, LA, we spend a day in our Café welcoming parents who pop in during their move and enjoy some meaningful introductions.
Align an Activity with Parents Weekend
You may desire to hold a unique event just for parents, but if your time or budget does not allow for it, align an activity that you plan to do anyway during Parent Weekend. Activities such as a regular student meal, guest speaker, or feast day Mass and celebration allow you to showcase your ministry's energy and sense of community to parents. Immersing parents in a day-in-the-life of a Campus Ministry has the added benefit of providing an accessible and relaxed atmosphere where parents can see your ministry in action.
Celebrate at Homecoming Tailgate
Homecoming tailgating is a perfectly festive time to host parents and families, for that matter. They can join you for Sunday morning Mass before heading home.
Give Thanks at a Baccalaureate Mass
College graduations trend towards the impersonal, but holding a traditional Baccalaureate Mass and reception to honor the students and parents involved in your ministry strikes a familial note. At Tulane and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, parents join their students at this special Mass, giving thanks for their education and the Catholic community that supported them during their college years.
Will you Join our Mission?
As you build parent engagement into your ministry and development plan, take a thoughtful and common-sense approach to nurture strong relationships with them. If you are not actively engaging parents in your ministry now, the time to do so was yesterday. College Ministries and Newman Centers exist to provide a place where students can come to know the Lord and find a home in his Church. Parents can be a great ally in helping ministries become more sustainable in their mission. Once parents learn the vital role you play in their student's lives, and when thoughtfully invited, parents will be eager to support the work of forming young leaders for the Church and community.
What's been a successful parent event your ministry has hosted? How are you reaching out to parents this year?
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