Back to School With God
“Armadillo Jim” Schmidt
Learn proven outreach strategies your church can implement in public schools this year.
When the church began playing hooky from school in the ’60s, America started to lose her way. But now many churches are finding their way back to school with God. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no separation of church and state, especially when it comes to church outreach into local public schools.
Did you know the Bible was never removed from public school? Only mandatory Bible study or reading was disallowed from many schools’ daily activities after Madelyn Murray O’Hare challenged the Supreme Court—and the media subsequently fooled us. The truth is that voluntary prayer and Bible studies can and should be the norm in America’s public schools. For example, the Tulsa, Okla.-based Kids for Christ, USA hosts more than 44 public school Bible clubs in cities all across America, and can help you learn how to implement Bible clubs in your own local schools.
As a children’s minister, entertainer and author known as “Armadillo Jim,” I have discovered at least 101 ways for the church to bridge the gap to public schools. I have been in more than 1,000 public schools through my nonprofit Put On Your Armor Foundation, which I founded in 1989 to help protect children from drugs, crime and violence. I also recently wrote a book called Helping Public Schools … Bridging the Gap, a manual for the church in reaching the 45 million students in America’s public schools. It is a tool to help churches fulfill the “Go ye” commission.
Whenever a pastor calls to invite me to bring my armadillos to his city’s public schools as a community outreach for his church, I first give him a test. I ask three simple questions: 1.What is the name of the public school nearest your church building? 2. What is the name of the principal? 3. What restaurant did you and the principal/coach/bus driver, etc. eat at during your last visit? If the pastor can’t answer all three, he certainly is not ready to reach a larger school audience through one of my public outreaches. Jesus taught us basic outreach and soft evangelism when he said, “Zaccheus, tonight I will dine with you.” Jesus also taught us how to network businesses—for example, when he used Peter’s boat to preach.
The Bible tells us that favor follows believers wherever we go. I believe the 2007–2008 school year will be the greatest open door for outreach and subsequent evangelism we have seen in America. Contrary to what the media and we, as believers, have been guilty of saying, God has not been kicked out of school. The Church is waking to the school bell and finally passing the test by attempting to reach the greatest mission field in America, the 90,000 public school campuses.
But there is a lot more homework to be done. Great national programs like Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Campus Crusade for Christ are offered on campuses, but the local church can connect with students, parents and educators in many more personalized ways. While events like See You at the Pole create awareness for how much we need freedom to pray on public school campuses, I suggest more direct relationship-building opportunities in Helping Public Schools …Bridging the Gap.
Here is an example I learned from a top salesman. On his first week on the job, this salesman showed up at his potential customer’s doorstep with bags of fresh fruit. Because he was bearing healthy gifts which had to be washed and cut, he was invited into the kitchen/break room, where for the past three years he has done more business than at any of his pre-appointed lunch or business meetings.
Imagine your pastor doing the same at a teacher’s lounge on the first day back to school. By the third week, the teachers will be wondering where the pastor is if he is a few minutes late. By the end of the year, guess what church will have bridged the gap, and which pastor will be called during an emergency, social gathering or school baccalaureate? Now imagine the teachers’ opinion of a local congregation who surprised them with an Extreme Teacher’s Lounge Makeover.
Pastors must first be servants to the community and school. One pastor directly attributed his tremendous church growth to the fact that he drove a school bus twice a day. Many of his students began telling their parents about their bus driver and where his church was located. Giving appreciation banquets for the public school bus drivers or custodians is another way to reach those who have an influential voice in students’ lives.
I’ve heard it said that it’s better to reach an audience twice a day (on the bus) then hope for one on Sunday. Bus drivers can encourage students, and they always know the “happenings,” good or bad, in a student’s home and neighborhood. Scores of other outreach opportunities in public schools exist today. Here are some more ideas from my book.
Ask military veterans within your congregation to organize and implement presentations for the local schools. Veterans can present new American or state flags on behalf of the local church. Church members/veterans can invite history teachers to special luncheons where your church or pastor presents special coffee mugs or items emblazoned with quotes from our founding fathers and related to our Christian heritage. Your church can initiate sponsorship of the history teachers’ trip to your state’s Reclaiming America Conference. You can also forward Bill Federer’s daily American Minute e-mail to all school administrators, staff, history teachers, librarians and school board. Contact www.Amerisearch.net or www.wallbuilders.org for more information on our nation’s Christian heritage.
Recruit arts and crafts / ladies groups, youth groups, etc., to create special Christmas ornaments (personalized for students when possible), then place them on a Christmas tree and deliver the tree to the school on behalf of your church. Chances are the school will proudly display this Christmas gift in the school lobby. You can also give individual student gifts or sponsor a visit from Santa Claus. On other occasions, like Valentine’s Day, you can deliver candy hearts wrapped to include money and a scripture verse.
Decide that your local church will be the one to recognize the musical gifts in students and develop these gifts for God’s glory. When your church holds a music competition and awards an annual scholarship, cash stipend or trip to the Grammy’s or Dove Awards to student musicians, while working with the school’s music educators to set the awards criteria, you will find an open door to many of God’s most talented people, our future worship leaders, songwriters and performers. Case in point: The second runner up in the 2007 American Idol, Melinda Doolittle, was very involved in her church youth group. She went on to Nashville where she later found herself on the world stage as an American Idol finalist. The church must not let Hollywood monopolize our most creative and talented musicians and artists. We must engage the students at an early age so their purpose and calling will be manifested for the Lord’s glory. Find practical instructions for holding a music competition in Checklist 1.
Note: The same strategy may be implemented for other arts like acting, drama or dance. You can send the contest winner to Broadway and the Tony Awards. Or use a similar format for computer students, sending them to leading tech conferences and trade shows. Your local church can even send award-winning student athletes to a professional game or contest of their choice.
Organize outreaches during any sports season—school and community sports have surpassed the local church as the center of attention for most parents and students, especially in rural America. Why complain about low church attendance when the gyms, locker rooms and stadiums around us host so many of our future church members? Imagine how many students a church will reach when booking a famous surfer as a speaker/trainer in a beach community. Activities could include free drawings for a surf board, board wax or beach apparel. You could also promote a surfing movie and sponsor it on the school campus.
Here’s another church/sports tie-in. Think of the many times the courts and media have told believers we can’t pray at a football game or sporting event. Why not turn this into an opportunity reach out in other ways—by sponsoring stadium/bleacher cushions on opening day? Find practical steps for reaching your community through stadium cushions in Checklist 2.
Another way to build relationships through sports is to host the team’s home-game meal at your church. In Yukon, Okla., five local churches draw for the right to host a home-game meal. Student athletes and their parents or Booster Club meet at the church three hours before the home game. The church prepares a delicious and coach-approved meal. The pastor or inspirational speaker representing the church welcomes the team and gives a pep talk. Your church can also use this opportunity to announce any sports award programs you’ve implemented, such as recognizing a Student Athlete of the Week. Don’t forget to ask the media to be your partner in this type of program.
Teach students and their parents stewardship, finance, debt-free living and purpose-driven giving. Money pulls at the heartstrings of every American, young or old. $40.6 trillion dollars will be transferred into the hands of current public school students once they reach adulthood. So your church can help them manage it wisely by partnering with anointed teachers like Dave Ramsey, Larry Burkett, Howard Dayton or Ron Blue to provide a school curriculum and classes for parents and teaching aides. And no matter what other outreach strategies you implement during the 2007-2008 school year, remember that the greatest way to bridge the gap to public schools is always to pray for your school.
Checklist 1: How to Host a Divine Music Award
* Organize a music awards committee from within your church and community.
* Set the criteria, and then arrange a follow-up meeting with school music educators to get their input for this awards campaign.
* Select a panel of judges. Use national contacts, media, etc. to enhance the program.
* Pre-arrange numerous secondary awards supported by local businesses, and plan a grand prize award such as a large scholarship to a music university and/or a trip to the Grammy’s or Dove Awards including tickets, hotel, on-site photographer, transportation, sponsors, travel money, etc.
* Prepare applications on official letterhead and distribute these within the schools.
* Host a special “encouragement” luncheon or dinner for all the applicants later in the year.
* Send notes to the applicants and bless them with subscriptions to music magazines, discounts to music stores, coupons, etc. Throw in some concert tickets/contests frequently.
* Select the winner based on the predetermined criteria and policies.
* Announce the winners and set up special press relations and media coverage of the event.
* Provide a limousine/transportation for the grand prize winner and parent or teacher chaperone to the airport and event.
* Set up live interviews (phone in) to local radio stations, TV stations and newspapers. E-mail photos from the event to be posted on school Web sites, church sites, blogs, MySpace, etc.
* Follow-up with a return event or welcome reception at your church.
* Award the recipients a medal or badge at the high school graduation service.
* Invite the recipient to perform a special song/instrumental at your church
* Make it an annual event.
* Create an alumni association of your winners.
* Stay in touch with all applicants.
Checklist 2: How to Use Stadium Cushions to Reach Sporting Enthusiasts
* Organize a sports outreach committee at your church.
* Set up a church marketing campaign based around a promotional product—stadium cushions.
* Prepare a budget and solicit donations or business sponsors/advertisers.
* Order stadium cushions (find a vendor on HelpingPublicSchools.com).
* Emblazon the cushions with school colors and mascot/logo. On the back side, print your church’s information along with a short prayer. You could also sell advertising spaces to church members and their businesses.
* Organize a team to distribute the cushions to fans entering the stadium.
* Take pictures of the cushions and post them on your Web site.
* Emblazon your church van and highway sign with the words “No. 1 Fan of X School, and Proud Sponsor of Stadium Cushions.”
“Armadillo Jim” Schmidt is author of Helping Public Schools … Bridging the Gap.
This article “Back to School With God” by “Armadillo Jim” Schmidt was excerpted from: Outreach magazine, September/October 2007. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”