5 Tips for Partnering with Your Local School

by FCS Ministries on

By Shawn Duncan

Working with local schools is a valuable way to engage your community. After all, it’s where local kids spend the majority of their day, and it affects families, employees, and so many others in your neighborhood.

One of the most rewarding things for me in community work is seeing how churches and schools can come together. Currently, I serve on the Family Engagement Parent Advisory Council and the Interfaith Leaders Coalition for the Dekalb County School District.  

A key distinction for me in this work is the idea of partnering with schools, not adopting them. Maybe I am nitpicking words here, but adopting can come with the all-too-common assumption that the church has the resources and the school simply has needs. Your schools are filled with amazing people, abundant resources, and incredible ideas. Come with a posture that embraces the dignity of the school.

I want to share 5 tips you can use to develop healthy church-school partnerships in your community.

TIP #1: Don’t misinterpret a lack of response.

I’ve watched churches get discouraged when attempts to reach out to a school are not responded to warmly or at all. The assumption is that the school does not need help, has some bias against faith groups, or simply does not care enough to respond.

From my experience, these have never been the actual reasons. Most often the slow (or no) response is evidence that an authentic relationship between the church and school has yet to be established.

TIP #2: Leverage networks to connect to schools.

Cold calls (or emails) don’t work. Relationships do. I tried and tried to get a meeting with one principal because I was told how eager she was for community partnerships. It did not happen, though, until a ministry partner of mine who knows her personally called her, told her about me and set a meeting for the three of us to talk.

All of my assumptions about why she never responded were false. She’s amazing! But she is also beyond capacity trying to run a school, and she could only trust me when someone she trusted trusted me (got that?).

TIP #3: Be patient because it will be messy.

Even if you have the right relationships, practice asset-based models, and exhibit the right posture, there is no short-cut to effective partnership with a school. If a school had a full-time community liaison on staff, maybe (maybe!) it would go more smoothly. But they don’t, so it won’t.

If you are looking for something simple, clean, and easy, partnering with a school is not for you. However, if you are seeking a long-term relationship that can have a transformative impact on your community, partnering with a school is right up your alley.

TIP #4: Adjust focus to the school’s objectives. (Not your outreach needs.)

Sometimes churches reach out to schools because the church itself has a need they are trying to meet - like getting another site added to their service project event they’ve been promoting for months. Or they’ve got too many volunteers and not enough things to do. So they reach out to “help” the local school.

This is one example (of many) of how attempts to “serve” schools can have more to do with the needs of the church than the objectives of the school. Take time to learn what the school cares about, and align yourself with that agenda. Be honest about your own needs and motives. When you are ready to learn about and support the school’s objectives, then you are ready for partnership.

TIP #5: Make the school the hero!

When you do develop relationships, understand their objectives, and create asset-based partnerships, you are sure (eventually) to see meaningful results. These stories need to be told and celebrated! When you do, though, make sure the school, administration, teachers, and the students and their families take center stage, not your ministry.

Education is a vital component of healthy community development, and it’s a perfect way for churches to engage their community.  If you are interested in learning more or consulting with your church about school partnerships, please contact me at shawn {at} fcsministries {dot} org.

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