A: You read that right – schools WANT church partners! 75% of Houston ISD students are economically disadvantaged. 1 in 4 students don’t have consistent access to affordable food. Because of these factors and a host of others, 2 out of 3 students are at-risk of dropping out. Our teachers and school districts want to see their students succeed and have great ideas for making that happen, but they often don’t have access to all the resources and networks they need to achieve these dreams. Also, many principals and teachers are believers and would love for a church to provide emotional and spiritual support for their students and staff along with physical resources. Schools across Greater Houston are reaching out to us and asking for church partners!
A: Great question! Churches can serve schools as any other community partner would – mentoring, supporting teachers, facilitating after-school programs, etc. A church can not proselytize, invite children to church, or initiate conversations on religion during school hours. However, there are many opportunities for facilitating faith-based programs and inviting families to your activities that are within school district guidelines. Mr. Lawrence Allen of the Texas State Board of Education explains more in this video.
The key is open dialogue, and committing to respect and adhere to your school district’s guidelines. Fortunately, these guidelines were created with the best interests of our kids in mind and give churches great freedom to serve and interact with children, teachers, and families in a variety of profoundly impactful ways. Friend, our Greater Houston school districts are asking churches to partner with their schools. Let’s take this opportunity to show God’s love to our neighbors in a tangible way. Imagine the positive impact on our children, and how differently they’ll see our loving, faithful God as a result!
Cynthia McCabe of the National Education Association shares a beautiful picture of what legal church school partnerships can look like here.
A: Schools are the centerpieces of our communities, and every challenge in our communities exists in our local schools. Partnering with a school allows your church to build meaningful relationships with the neighbors in your specific community, which allows your local outreach to be intentional, focused, and strategic. See below for ideas on what this could look like:
One in five kids in Houston faces food insecurity. This means that these families don’t have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. This can be addressed in the short-term by offering breakfast, nutritious after-school snacks, or backpacks of food when necessary. This can also be addressed in the long-term by educating families about inexpensive but healthy food options, working with the school to develop community gardens, or collaborating with the community to bring grocery stores into food deserts.
Houston is the most diverse city in the country, with thousands of immigrants and refugees arriving each year. By volunteering in your local school, you can help these families transition to life in the States. For example, you could partner with your school to offer ESL classes for families, tutor students in English, mentor students as they’re going through the transition, or help families translate and navigate the difficult first steps of moving to a new country.
Runaway teens are increasingly falling victim to trafficking. What a difference a mentor could make before personal struggles escalate to this point in a child’s life! Experts agree that the consistent presence of a caring adult makes a significant difference in the trajectory of a child’s life. One-on-one mentoring can not only improve grades and school attendance, but also decrease dropout rates and give children hope of a different future.
By investing in our schools, we’re addressing the needs of kids and families today while also empowering them for the future.
Anyone in your church can help, whether it’s in a one-on-one relationship or a behind-the-scenes role. Our schools are asking for communities to get involved — let’s step up!
A: While adoptions and partnerships look similar in practice, the underlying philosophy is different. In a partnership, the church and the school are equal contributors to the school’s success. Thus, church and school leaders work together closely to determine what assets each partner has before collaborating around opportunities for improvement. School staff and community members are not beneficiaries of charity, but rather equal participants in the context of a long-term relationship that empowers them in their work with students.
For more on this asset-based collaborative approach, check out the following references:
Community Christian Development Association
When Helping Hurts (book by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert)
“Building on the Strengths of Communities” (TED Talk by Neighborhood Centers CEO Angela Blanchard)
Another neat thing about the partnership model is that both churches and schools report benefits from their involvement in the partnerships. The morale of the school is naturally expected to be lifted as a result of church involvement, but the morale of the church is often lifted also as members experience appreciation from children, parents, and staff, and see tangible transformation in attitudes, behavior, and test scores. The lives of both church and school representatives are enriched because of the opportunity to interact with individuals outside of their normal spheres of influence.
A: Every need in our communities exists in our local schools: poverty, hunger, homelessness, trafficking, refugees, etc. And every person in your church – from kids to retirees – can do something to help. Whether it’s mentoring, supporting teachers, building a community garden, stuffing backpacks with food on weekends, or praying for staff and students, everyone in your church can come alongside the school with their gifts and abilities and serve. Serving together in a school partnership is discipleship in action – a chance for seasoned believers to model to younger believers what it looks like to love their neighbors, to be salt and light, and to care for widows and orphans in their distress. A school partnership is a natural hub for all of your local compassion ministry efforts.
The challenges are extensive, but we can each play a part in the community where God has called us – for such a time as this!
A: Several of the church leaders in our Loving Houston network have led school partnerships for many years. They’ve shared with us that networking with and learning from fellow church school partnership leaders is invaluable. As one of our leaders shared, it can be reassuring to know that you’re not unique in your challenges!
Also, knowing that a challenge is systemic rather than unique to you can allow you all to come together to address it strategically and effectively.
And finally, you could actually be a valuable resource for a church who is just starting out. At our monthly Church School Partnership Leaders Gatherings, we always have a time of sharing ideas and best practices. We would love for you to join us to share about lessons learned in your partnership — and maybe you’ll pick up a tip or two as well!
A: Loving Houston is helping churches serve schools because we believe that God has called us as Christians to love our neighbors as ourselves. Thus, the tips and inspiration we share are offered with that foundational Biblical philosophy in mind. We also believe that engaging the manpower, brain power, and material resources of the 3,500 churches in Greater Houston could yield spectacular results for our city, but it’s a monumental task that will require all of the time and effort we currently have available. All this being said, any group is welcome to use our resources and materials to advance community transformation wherever they are.
A: There are several ways to choose a school:
Consider prioritizing pre-K or elementary schools as well as schools with lower ratings or higher rates of poverty.
Choose a school where you already have a connection, e.g. a member is a teacher, kids in your church attend the school.
Some districts prefer to make the connections themselves between community partners and specific schools. See our Search by District page for information about partnering in your district.
Use our Searchable Map to see which schools are closest to you, along with demographic information and partnership status. A green icon indicates that a school is actively looking for a church partner!
Friends, EVERY school has students and staff who could be encouraged by you. Pray over this decision, and then take a leap of faith! If the school says no to your offer to help, thank them graciously and begin the process again. You never know — they could have a change of heart down the line!
We can also help with finding a match – contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A: Great! The organizations, partnerships, and school districts that we’ve listed are ones that we’ve personally connected with through our current networks. If you know of other groups engaging churches to serve local schools and students, please contact us at email@example.com to let us know. We would love to connect with them, learn from them, and share their stories to accelerate this movement of community transformation throughout Greater Houston.
A: Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your interest in LOVING HOUSTON!