By Jeremy Steele, United Methodist Communications
Is your church preparing for “back-to-school?” This time of year offers incredible ministry opportunities — if you do it right. Here are five important tips for excelling at school outreach.
1. Timing is everything
Stepping in with an offer to help at the wrong time can be more of a burden than a blessing. That is particularly true at the beginning of the school year. Steer clear of the campus for the first week! The first week of school is one of the most stressful for everyone involved.
If you want to get a jump on outreach, try reaching out to the teachers the week before classes begin. Consider catering a lunch while the teachers are getting their classrooms in order. Ministering to teachers doesn’t have to end there. Check out these Back-to-school outreach ideas!
2. Revise your offer to “help wherever needed”
Pastors and church leaders often make blanket offers to help and then lament that they are never called. School staff often don’t have the time to think about who might be able to help them. They definitely don’t have the time to call everyone who offered to help to see if they can borrow a folding machine.
Rather than leaving the offer open-ended, develop a list of equipment and other resources that your church has to offer that a school might need (a sound system, a portable projector, a meeting room, etc.) and take it to the office. Say, “We would love to help you however you need, and wanted you to know the kinds of things we have available for you to use.”
3. Volunteer in the office
If you want to learn the needs of the school and be seen as a true partner, volunteer to make copies, run errands and provide other help in the front office. If you’ve done the mental work to create your resource list, you will be ready to offer assistance when needs arise.
4. Meet other needs
Teachers and administrators want to make a difference in the lives of students. Providing an environment that is safe and conducive to learning is a massive task alone. Add to that the list of real needs students bring that extend far beyond the classroom, and they are beyond what each educator can fulfill. Schedule time to talk with the principal of the school (which will be easy when you’re volunteering in the office). Ask about the biggest needs in their students’ lives that the school can’t fully address. Take those needs back to your church and make a plan to meet them. For some advice on where to start, read ABCs of back-to-school outreach.
5. Support, don’t control
When strong leaders see a need, they are tempted to take control. In school ministry, that desire needs to be squelched. Do your best to maintain a support role and not take charge. Defer to the administration and always seek to support their initiatives. If you are asked to take the reins on a project, make sure that you do it in such a way that the school — not you — gets the credit.