By Dennis Garcia
There are many ways for a church to have a lasting impact on its local community. Perhaps one of the most profound ways is through local schools.
In Las Cruces, New Mexico, where I live, the local school system has nearly 25,000 students and 3,200 employees. When you factor in parents and grandparents of students, local schools connect with more than half of our population of 101,000 people.
This likely isn’t unique to our community and thus provides a tremendous opportunity for churches to impact a large percent of their communities just by focusing on schools.
Now, not all schools and school districts are open to involvement from the local churches. For some, this is due to a misunderstanding of the separation of church and state.
For others, it comes down to not wanting to make it look like the schools are giving access to one group and not others. Nevertheless, getting into schools isn’t always an easy task.
Perhaps the best way to get a foot in the door is to come with an agenda to serve. Schedule an appointment with the principal for the sole purpose of asking about their vision for the school and how your church can partner with them to help.
Another question you can ask is, “What projects would you love to tackle if you had the ability or resources to accomplish them?”
When you approach a school leader with this posture of humility and the desire to serve, they will usually have a list of ways the church can partner with the school.
If the principal has no projects in need of attention, here are a few suggestions for starting points.
1. Feed the staff
Educators are overworked and usually under-appreciated. When you offer to provide a meal during a training or teacher prep day, you communicate that you see and appreciate the work educators do.
2. Resources and Supplies
As the husband of a teacher, I understand how much money teachers personally spend on supplies for their classrooms. At my last church, we asked several teachers in the congregation to make a list of their most-needed supplies.
We then purchased supplies at wholesale rates and put bags together for all the teachers at two local schools. For less than $1,000, we were able to provide each teacher with more the equivalent of $40 worth of supplies had they purchased the same items at the local store.
3. Handwritten Thank You Notes
One year, our student ministry decided to show their appreciation by creating handwritten thank you notes to every teacher at the local high school. The students then delivered each card along with a soda and candy bar.
Most schools are greatly understaffed. It speaks volumes to local schools when you offer to supply volunteers on a regular and consistent basis.
Volunteers can assist with tutoring, making copies, covering recess duty, keeping the school clean, assisting with drop-off and pick-up, and any number of other roles. Your school probably has a list of roles for volunteers to fill.
5. Big Events
You can offer to secure and run the inflatables and other games for school block parties and other large school events. This saves the school money and also provides needed volunteers.
6. Food Bags for the Weekend
The primary food source for many economically-disadvantaged students is breakfast and lunch served at schools. On weekends, these students miss out on the nutrition they typically receive during the week.
This lack of access to food has a direct impact on student attendance and performance in schools. Providing bags of easy-to-prepare meals for these students not only meets a basic necessity; it also helps them become better students.
One local church in New Mexico has a partnership with their local elementary school to provide a new bicycle to each student who has perfect attendance for the year.
Other churches have provided gifts to the student-of-the-week or teacher-of-the-month. This is yet another way to help the school promote and celebrate achievements and good behavior.
There are many ways to serve local schools through their athletics programs. Many pastors volunteer to be team chaplains. Churches can also provide a team meal or offer their facility for the end-of-season team banquet.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of ideas to serve your local schools. Instead, it’s intended to be a starting point to spur creativity among church leadership.
However, as mentioned before, the best place to start is by asking local school leaders about their needs. This small gesture shows an enormous amount of care and concern on the part of the church.
Dennis Garcia (@dennislgarcia) is the husband of Toni, father of Miranda and Kephas, and church planting catalyst serving in Southern New Mexico for the North American Mission Board.