By Michael Smith
About a decade ago, Rustic Hills Community Church of God was looking for a practical way to build redemptive relationships in their community. The city of Sioux Falls is a small Midwestern city, but the largest city in South Dakota (population 187,000). There are lots of Christian-based ministry opportunities within the city, but we wanted something more personal, and something that would give us the opportunity to make real relationships. Connecting with one of our area schools seemed like the perfect option for us.
We prayed for an extended period of time about which school to select. Initially we were thinking one of the schools with a higher percentage of free/reduced lunches (an indicator of need) but, after much prayer, it seemed God was leading us to a different school: Harvey Dunn Elementary. It is not the closest school to our physical location, but it is nearby.
I made the initial contact with the school principal. I prayed for favor with the principal for a week before I stopped inside. I saw her car in the parking lot and simply stopped and asked the office staff if I could meet with the principal for a moment. This was in the summer, so her schedule was much more flexible. Dr. Boysen was willing to meet with me. I introduced myself and told her that my church wanted to serve her and the school. She was initially guarded, but I assured her several times that we did not have a secret agenda. We simply wanted to do what we could do to serve her and make her life easier for her, her staff, and the school.
We talked a bit about what that might look like. I asked her what would make her life as a principal easier. I asked her if she had needs that her budget would not cover.
The school always needs classroom volunteers. I agreed to try and recruit some. I suggested that we would like to assign a personal prayer partner for all teachers and staff. She was willing to give me a staff roster. I assured her that we would control contact between those praying and the teachers. We did not want teachers to get unsolicited contact from people they did not know. Over time this restriction has loosened up as intercessors have sent cards or notes. Teachers have recognized that we can be trusted. Now some teachers let us know when they have prayer concerns. As time has gone on, we have found some relationships developing among staff and church people. One year I spent several hours counseling a teacher going through a divorce.
We were told that teachers love treats. We organized an effort to bring home-baked treats to the teacher’s lounge on Wednesdays each week. This is an easy “win” for everyone. People that are intimidated by volunteering or some other kind of face-to-face contact are willing to bake a treat once in a while. People who thought they could never participate in outreach or evangelism find an opportunity to participate. We have people volunteer to bake treats for the teacher’s lounge and usually they only have to do so once a year. We have no restrictions on what we provide. We encourage home-baked rather than purchased food—it is more meaningful.
In addition, we have provided food and support during parent-teacher conference and volunteers for special events for which the school staff needs help. We have provided clothing for young children—coats, hats, mittens, and also socks, underwear, and pants. Our elementary school has a large number of preschool children, as well as young elementary, and they often have “accidents,” requiring fresh underwear, or other supplies. We bring clothing and give it to the office, where the staff keeps it for when it is needed. We also provide school supplies to the office for teachers who might need extra. In our district most students already get backpack-kinds-of-things from other sources, so individual school supplies are usually not a need.
Also, one of the teachers has started using our church facility parking lot for a summer basketball camp. This is at no cost to us, but gets dozens and dozens of elementary-age children into the parking lot and building for a week each summer.
The churches in Sioux Falls have a voluntary network through which we try to keep track of which church is volunteering at which school. For us it is often confusing if more than one church is volunteering at one particular school. Brian Stroh (an associate pastor of one of our city churches), has just written a book on church-school partnership which might be of help. For more helpful ideas and strategies for partnering with schools, visit Brian’s resourceful Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BrianStrohSchoolPartnerships, which contains thirty-one interviews from participating churches—including Rustic Hills.
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.