What is the one thing that most, if not all, the youth in our ministry have in common? They all go to school. I know some of our students are home schooled and don’t “go” to school, but most of them are in school. Because of this, it is important for us to connect with our local schools. Even with our super busy schedules, it is an important part of a youth worker’s job to make a connection with an area school or schools. Getting into the schools is important to not only create a stronger relationship with the students involved in our ministry, but also, and maybe even more importantly, it is a way to reach the lost students of our communities and advance the kingdom forward.
Before I worked full-time in youth ministry I was a teacher for almost a decade and an assistant principal for three years. This background has given me good insight on effective ways to “get our foot in the door” of local schools. It has helped me understand the rules and regulations regarding religion in schools.
Getting your feet in the door at a local school is not the same as it used to be. When I was in school a youth pastor could just show up at lunch and eat with some of his youth group. Nowadays there are a lot of rules and regulations regarding entry into schools, and rightfully so. Because of these entry restrictions, along with other rules regarding Christian and other religious groups and clubs, it is important to understand why a school administrator can often times be reluctant to invite youth workers into their schools. It can open a huge can of worms allowing Christian groups at their schools. I say all this simply as a warning that as you start to look into school entry you may be denied. Don’t let that get you down.
Even with these rules and regulations and possible reluctance from administrators, it is still important for God to be present in our schools. Even though these rules and regulations make it harder to get in, it does not eliminate the possibility of doing ministry in a school. Here are some tips from my experiences as an administrator that will help you gain access to your local schools.
First and foremost, we need to pray for our schools. That might seem like a no-brainer, but if we want God in our schools then we need to pray Him into our schools. Pray for administrators, teachers, and students. Get names of school personnel from your students and pray for them by name. I feel the best way to get God into schools isn’t by leading Him in, but following Him in. So, if we start with prayer, God can start to open doors for us.
The second piece of advice is to make a relationship of some kind. Make phone calls, or even better, set up meetings with school officials and/or teachers. If you have any administrators or teachers in your church congregation make a relationship with him or her. Pray for them. Let God work through them. We had one of our associate pastors set up a meeting with a local principal before school where he simply went and prayed for that principal. He was then able to pray for the other assistant principals and do a prayer walk around the administrative offices. Even if some administrators and teachers are reluctant to start up religious groups and clubs they might be more open to something more “behind the scenes” such as allowing you in to pray for them and their school.
Another way to make connections is through groups or clubs. These groups and clubs are a great way to legally minister to students. I have been involved with my former school’s FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). Another local school has a similar club where a colleague of mine is involved. Getting involved in groups or clubs is a great way to build relationships with students. You’re there consistently and can make lasting relationships with students and their friends. If a local school doesn’t have a Christian club ask if you can start one. Usually school corporations will require a staff member to be a sponsor, but that is where making relationships comes into play. Use those relationships to start Christian organizations.
This brings me to my next tip; ask for speaking engagements. If you’re not sure which schools have avenues for you to come in and speak, ask your youth. I have been invited several times to speak to school groups because students in my ministry have said something to their teachers and club leaders. Again, this is such a great way to spread God’s word to our youth.
Since I’ve moved to full-time ministry I haven’t been the best and getting into the schools. These are just some ideas from my experience that I feel will work. I’m anxious to hear some things you guys already do to minister to our schools.