By Rob Cizek
The vast majority of Christians came into a relationship with God before their 18th birthday. Churches that are serious about reaching people know this and want to take full advantage.
Pragmatically, they see Christian schools as the single greatest opportunity to reach the most people in their community. This alone makes Christian education worthwhile — but, there are other good reasons to have a Christian school.
It’s a self-funded ministry. Once established, a Christian school can cover all its costs and contribute additional resources towards its use of your church’s facilities. It allows your church to connect without taking any resources from the general fund. Imagine being able to reach kids for Christ, and their parents will pay you to do it!
It enables you to reach families who’d otherwise never come to church. Many families in your community won’t come to your Sunday worship services. However, they will come to your church for daycare, preschool or private education.
It models discipleship, caring and a biblical worldview. Each day, educators model important aspects of the Christian life for students. They demonstrate Christ-like caring, spiritual growth through relationships, and application of a biblical world view. These are things that simply aren’t seen anywhere other than in church or in a Christian school.
|Seattle-based Northshore Christian Church and Academy has grown by about 10 percent, annually, in the 17 years since it was founded. It also has a consistent waiting list of students.
I’m blessed to see this every day as executive pastor at Northshore Christian Church and Academy, a non-denominational church in the Seattle area. We’re a church with weekend attendance of 1,500 and an elementary/middle school with about 1,000 students. The school has grown by about 10 percent annually in its 17-year history. Together, we’ve learned a lot about Christian education.
The purpose of this article is to answer the questions church leaders commonly ask about running a Christian school.
What kind of a church should have a school?
If your church already has a building, chances are it’s a natural fit for a school. Church buildings are used for ministry on nights and weekends, but generally are available during school hours. Also, building costs can be shared between the church and school to the benefit of both. Almost every church with a nursery and children’s ministry classrooms is a good candidate to have a school. Daycare, after-school care, early learning centers, pre-kindergarten and kindergarten can work at almost any church. Obviously, schools serving students elementary and above will require additional space beyond what most churches already have.
How do you get started?
As noted above, most existing churches can handle some level of school operations already. Start by opening a daycare, latchkey program or early learning center. These programs bring in people from the community, and parents expect to pay for them. When your program is a success, existing clients will naturally want you to offer kindergarten and elementary classes. When there’s enough demand, you’ll have a base to start offering a first-grade class, followed by second-grade a year later, and so on.
How much will it cost my church?
A few years of initial financial support from your church should be expected. After those first years, your business plan should call for the school to be self-sustaining — in other words, to cover its fair share of operating costs. A school is not a “cash cow” for the church; think of it as a self-supporting ministry. In most cases, schools don’t turn a profit.
What challenges can we expect?
The greatest challenge will be facilities-sharing. All involved in both the church and school will need to set aside their claims to individual spaces. Classrooms and large group spaces will need to be shared. A lot of patience and flexibility will be needed because you’re “a big family sharing one house.” Multi-use will mean a greater need for storage.
|Northshore Christian Church and Academy recently added a new building to its campus: The Pavilion. “[A small group of key school and church leaders] built something that’s inviting, uber-practical and equally useful to everyone,” says Executive Pastor Rob Cizek. “For me, it’s a monument to what a good church-school relationship can be.”
Another challenge is cost allocation. The church ultimately uses a percentage of the property, as does the school. However, it’s very difficult to agree on what’s fair with regard to these percentages. Costs that need to be split include mortgage, utilities, janitorial services, restroom supplies, media equipment, IT, phones and large capital items such as roofing, exterior painting, carpeting, HVAC and parking lot repairs.
What are the best tools for promoting a healthy church-school relationship? The single greatest tool is to structure the school as a ministry of your church. It’s powerful when a school knows it’s supported and cared for just as any other important church ministry.
Another great tool is to establish a forum in which the inevitable tensions between the church and school can be discussed. In our organization, we have established an executive committee for just this reason. It includes the senior pastor, executive pastor, school superintendent and business director. The senior pastor challenges these individuals to openly and directly explore any points of concern.
What makes for a successful Christian school?
Parents are looking for quality education in a safe environment. Both Christian and non-Christian parents turn to Christian schools to provide their children with solid moral instruction. Reasonable tuition, a caring faculty and a bright facility are also factors.
However, the single greatest success factor is a school that constantly works to “keep the main thing the main thing.” That main thing is Jesus. There’s a natural force that pushes Christian schools to become merely private schools. The quality of education or athletics can easily, over time, shift the focus away from Christ. A successful school is intentional about sharing the Gospel and about relationally discipling students to spiritual maturity. It evaluates this focus each year. It course-corrects towards Christ as necessary.
The X-factor of success
Many of the Christian schools in our area have declining attendance. Some schools are even shutting down. People often ask us why our school continues to grow — and even have waiting lists.
I can humbly say that it’s God’s blessing. Beyond that, there are a lot of really good people working very hard. We have a superintendent and principals with tireless work ethics and incredible talents, with both people and systems. We have teachers that genuinely care about students and parents. We have a recruiter/admissions person who’s incredibly effective at telling our story. We have an overall ethos of relationship, where people feel known and have community. We have a facilities team that genuinely cares to keep our campus safe and beautiful. We have a caring lay person who’s both chairman of our elder board and our school board. (His heart for unity can be seen everywhere.) We have room administrators who masterfully balance all the competing space needs. There are students and families who take their education and spiritual walk seriously.
In addition to people, our systems support success. Kids as young as 12 months attend our early learning center. Based on their experiences there, they want to stay with us for elementary school, and then middle school. We work hard to keep tuition rates reasonable and family fundraising asks minimal. We have mechanisms (mentioned above) for healthy management of tensions between the church and school.
Recently, we were blessed to add a new building to our campus: The Pavilion. For me, it’s a monument to what a good church-school relationship can be.
It started with the school’s need for more classrooms. A small group of key school and church leaders began meeting 18 months out. They asked, “How can we develop a space that works equally well for both school and church ministry use?” After much collaboration and creative problem-solving, they built something that’s inviting, uber-practical and equally useful to everyone. Each time I see it, I’m encouraged that churches and schools really can have a healthy, God-honoring relationship doing ministry together.
Rob Cizek is executive pastor at Northshore Christian Church and Academy in the Seattle area. His leadership blog is RobCizek.com.