The school has become the community center for learning, recreation, art, and music. In Salem, Oregon a simple strategy has been used to start over 40 church and school-based partnerships. By partnering with schools, church members discover new opportunities to use their skills and passions in meaningful service to their community.
It starts with a question, “How can the church serve the needs of the school, no strings attached?”
printable help sheet PDF
1. Your Church Identity
In preparing to enter any partnership, the first step is to know your church mission and how the partnership fits within it.
- How does community outreach fit into the mission of the church?
- How committed to community outreach is the top level leadership of the church?
- How does your church articulate the relationship between service and evangelism in light of whole-gospel proclamation?
- What is your church’s mission statement for community outreach?
- Create a School Partnership Team and appoint a Primary Contact Person dedicated to this effort.
2. Identify a Potential School Partner – gather information to help determine which school to pursue.
- Consider the schools in your neighborhood first and prioritize low-income and under-performing schools.
- Learn more about the schools of interest. Consider demographics such as percentage of students on free or reduced meal programs, academic performance, and programs already present. Most districts offer this information on individual school websites.
3. Meet with a Key Person from the school to get acquainted and explain your hope to serve as a partner.
- At most schools, the Principal, Vice Principal, or volunteer coordinator will be the Key Person. Call and make an appointment. Only the Primary Contact Person (and potentially one other person from your team) should go to this first meeting.
- Keep the meeting brief. Clearly explain that the purpose is to see if there is a potential for partnership, and that you have no agenda but to see how you can partner with the school while developing your congregation into well-rounded and engaged citizens.
- Ask questions about the school’s successes, what they are proud of and celebrate.
- Ask questions about the school’s biggest needs. Do not bring up what you think they need, instead, listen well.
4. Arrange a second meeting to discuss potential actions
- If the first meeting goes well and there seems to be an amicable relationship, arrange a second meeting to discuss in more detail what the school’s needs are. Ask the Key Person to invite other leaders in the school.
- Have a brainstorm session to allow the school leadership to list their strengths and assets, followed by their needs.
- Let the school know your church would like to help with something on the list.
5. Build Relationships
- Consider starting with one simple project.
- You’ll have a good idea of what to do from the list compiled through the brainstorm step. Here are some examples of simple services: ground beautification, lunch for staff, or painting a mural. An activity you can do well is best.
- Investing in school leadership as you serve and going above and beyond what you promised will help build trust.
6. Develop a Plan
- Begin to develop a plan based on previous discussions with school leadership.
- An example of a plan might include:
- Key Goals
- Major Actions/Tasks
- Measurement- How will you know you have completed your goal? This is most important for activities that involve benchmarks or other measurements of education.
- Share the plan with school and church leadership and get their feedback.
7. Build and prepare your team
- Primary Contact Person – Your team should identify someone who will facilitate all communication with the school.
- Separation of Church and State Policy – Your team should be familiar with this.
- FOR versus WITH Relational Dynamics of Partnerships – Read, understand and train your team in this concept for creating healthy partnerships.
- Consider having the Principal come speak to the congregation about the school.
- Plan for appropriate background checks and orientation for volunteers as necessary (depending upon school and district regulations).
8. Follow Up
- Once programs are underway, continually follow-up with the Principal and other school leaders to insure that the programs are running smoothly.
- Determine process for addressing issues as they arise.
- School Partnership Coordinator should meet frequently (once per quarter) with the other church volunteers involved in projects at the school.
- Once or twice per year, have volunteers get together to discuss issues and share stories. Share stories with your congregation.
- Celebrate the success of your partnership with school leadership!
The goal of school partnerships is to develop and cultivate lasting relationships between local churches and schools. While churches have been serving schools in a variety of capacities for many years, we hope to raise the bar from “project-based” involvement to partnerships based on a long-term, personal relationship between the church congregation and the administrators, teachers, staff, and parents of their adopted school. There is a vast difference between this approach and a project-based partnership.
IS THERE ANYTHING WRONG WITH JUST DOING PROJECTS?
Most of the existing connections between churches and schools are “project-based,” meaning churches provide funds and volunteers to accomplish various projects at a school. In most cases, these projects are outside the school’s budget or could not be accomplished without the church. Common projects include an annual school clean-up day, providing a crew of laborers for maintenance tasks, donating winter coats for underprivileged students, and raising funds for a cause promoted by the school. Yet, churches participate in these one-time or even annual projects without ever developing a real relationship with school personnel or parents.
PROJECTS ARE GREAT, BUT COULDN’T THERE BE SOMETHING MORE?
We commend all churches serving their schools through projects. However, we believe any church can be more effectively involved by establishing and cultivating a relationship with the school community. Friendships develop through spending time together regularly and keeping the lines of communication open. In the same way, church leaders should invest time and energy into forming relationships with school staff and administrators. We’ve seen the power of these relationship-based partnerships. Instead of a periodic resource, the church becomes part of the fabric of the school community.
HOW DO YOU BUILD THAT TYPE OF PARTNERSHIP?
This kind of relationship doesn’t just happen; it has to be developed. To begin, a pastor or church leader might invite the school’s principal to have coffee or lunch. This might be followed by a meeting between key church leaders and representatives from the school. The church’s involvement in past and present projects will help build trust, but learning about the school’s vital needs straight from the source is crucial. As the church is able to meet some of those needs – and follows through on their commitment to do so – the school community begins to view it as a real partner.
We can’t stress enough the need to “under-promise and over-deliver.” Many schools have been disappointed by the empty promises of churches in the past, often because of a church serving for a short time and then disappearing. Though short-term service is helpful, it can also prove disheartening and detrimental to building a relationship-based partnership. We believe it is better for a church to do less, but do it consistently.
WHAT ARE THE MINIMAL REQUIREMENTS FOR A REAL PARTNERSHIP?
Communication is crucial in any relationship. We suggest a church wishing to develop a relationship-based partnership maintain at least a minimal level of contact (at least every other month) with the school administrators and staff. Stop by the school office to say hello, and ask if there is anything the church can do to help. If you ask that question consistently, the school will begin to think of the church as a resource when a need arises. As the relationship grows, communication should become even more frequent. This could be a mixture of phone calls, personal visits, and interacting with school personnel while serving or during school functions.
Another essential element is an attitude of service without a hidden agenda. Churches are in the business of providing spiritual direction to the larger community, and should do so freely on their property. However, we ask that when a church serves on school property they maintain the separation of church and state. Individuals and families served by the church may very well seek out spiritual direction from church members, but this should be done offsite at the church building or a neutral location. The school’s staff should feel confident that those serving from the church are not crossing that line.
WHAT IF WE CAN’T DO IT ALL?
While communication and serving without an agenda are requisites for any true partnership between a church and a school, there are various levels of time and involvement that can actually define such partnerships. Based on available resources, the number of volunteers, needs at the school, and the church’s commitment level, these partnerships can take on many forms. We have established a list of criteria to help a church determine their own interest and commitment level:
- Frequency of involvement
- Number of volunteers involved
- Total number of volunteer hours annually
- Relational significance
- Financial commitment
WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?
In the end, the success of a partnership between a church and a school is based on the establishment of a mutually beneficial relationship. The school benefits as the church addresses its needs. The church benefits as its congregation gets out of the church building, serves the school in a meaningful way, and builds a bridge to families in the community that are not currently attending church. Trust is built over time, allowing these connections to grow. This, in essence, is the meaning of the word “community.”