One of the goals in the Missouri Annual Conference is for every church to engage in a meaningful partnership with their local public school. This is a fantastic goal! I know there are always mixed feelings around goals given to us by the conference office, and I want to assure you that this goal is one to get especially excited about.
The congregation in which I grew up had a partnership with an inner-city school. At that time they called it the Buddy Program. Each grade level had a different theme: Book Buddies, Bear Buddies, and Best Buddies. Book Buddies showed up at the school and worked on reading skills with their student, sometimes bringing their own books with them. Bear Buddies were a type of pen pal sending letters to each other in the backpack of a stuffed bear. Someone was responsible for delivering the bears to the church and back to the school. Best Buddies showed up at the school with a game to play with their student intentionally working on math, reading, and/or critical thinking skills. Quarterly, the church hosted a Saturday picnic for all the buddies and their families complete with food, crafts, and games.
Sometimes students would move out of the school district in the midst of the school year or between years, but, if possible, each buddy followed their student from one grade to the next. Besides the educational help, these students also received the love of Jesus through their buddies. Meaningful, positive relationships were built that some of these students didn’t otherwise have access to.
There are a lot of ways to partner with your local school. Start with prayer, of course! Then have a conversation with the administrators and ask what they need most right now. For ideas and tips from some experts, check out Jake McGlothin’s book The Mission-Minded Guide to Church and School Partnerships. (If you are a United Methodist in MO, someone from your church should have received a copy at Annual Conference this year! They are also offering a webinar with the author on August 4th. Click HERE for details.)
Here are a few things to remember in building this bridge:
- Consider how you might partner with other local churches to multiply your impact. When we all focus on the eternal goal we are able to work together to further the Kingdom, but if we focus on gaining members our competition falls short of the glory of God.
- Remember to build relationships with parents/guardians as well! Some will be delighted to engage while others won’t care to. Don’t be discouraged by the later, but continue to share the love of God. (See Isaiah 55 especially verse 10-13)
- Your partnership does not have to be the same as any other. There are many options to learn from, and others the Holy Spirit might inspire in you. Open yourselves to His inspiration and fear not, for God is with you!