Churches Can and Should Fill Nitches Schools No Longer Can Afford

Originally published July 15, 2011.

Last month I challenged how the Church can fill a void in what has become of prom.  There are so many other ways the Church can also fill niches that schools can no longer afford.

Due to No Child Left Behind, public education is going through major changes.  Due to budget slashing, public education is going through even greater changes.  Some programs are outright getting cut while in other school districts parents have to pay for a program that has been traditionally offered through public education such as Advanced Placement Art History, junior varsity golf or fourth-year German.  For a good cursory overview of this, read this Wall Street Journal article:   Free education is no longer free.  And I’m not talking about the taxes we pay to support education.


So how can the Church help?  What role can we play?

We have a stage, sound system, and instrumentation.  At a time when music budgets are getting slashed, the Church can provide a great music program.  And this doesn’t have to be limited to a youth-only choir.  Sometimes there is more value for that gifted musician to be sitting elbow-to-elbow with adult gifted musicians.

Scott Thumma, a scholar at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research who has written widely about mega-churches (and whom I’ve quoted before), recalls visiting a youth service at a large church in the Washington, D.C., area (not mine!). What Thumma called the “entertainment portion” featured dramatic stage lighting and electric guitars. That would be the worship part of the service.  To quote Thumma about that part of church, “It was easily a rock concert. The only thing missing was ‘Free Bird’ and us holding up our lighters.” Thumma then surmised that churches are thus a natural training ground for prospective (American) “Idol” contestants.  To quote: “There aren’t many places in our culture where people can just sing. Church is one of those places.” (LA Times, May 23, 2010) We’ve got karaoke bars where people have opportunity to sing but they aren’t coached, given challenging opportunities, nor fairly praised doing karaoke.

The Church can provide other arts besides music. My church has an active artists group that invites and dotes on the teens that join them.  The teens are being challenged, taught and are receiving input from real artists which is more than that teen would get in an art class at school.  I know, I substitute teach for art.  Schools simply don’t have the budget for artists who are also art teachers.  My church has a collection of artists who love to share what they’ve got, especially when it comes to young and aspiring artists.

The Church has the lights and stage and backstage set up for drama productions.  Probably more budget too.  Can you envision putting on your own production of Les Miserables and opening up all those roles and stage roles to the teens in your community?  Your may be spending more time producing than leading Bible studies, but you also would be spending more time with teens who would not otherwise be coming to your church.  These teens would be coming through your doors.  They would be mixing with members of your church family.  Schools can’t offer this stuff anymore.  Why can’t we as the Church?  Don’t forget to charge the average theatre price for admission.  You are presenting art to your community.  The take at the door can help fund your salary.

Sherwood Baptist Church is renowned for creating Sherwood Pictures to make movies that attempt to equal Hollywood productions.  If you’ve ever read the many interviews about the production work of these movies, you will learn that nearly all of the acting parts, walk-on parts, filming, staging, and everything else you can think of including providing the food is done by members of the church.  This includes the teens.  There is no better training for any of those teens, whether it is in catering or staging, than this opportunity that this church offers.

Your church may have audio visual equipment.  For some reason schools are investing in audio visual equipment despite the budget cuts but those who get to use it are a select few.  Turn this possible program over to your senior pastor.  Since the teens can make short films to benefit the life of the church family, let him direct the projects—and be able to spend quality time with these teens.

An added bonus can be that if you have a good relationship with the school, try to get your audio visual team’s video shorts played during the morning announcements.  Video shorts during the morning announcements are generally bad.  A good one would be welcomed and you will have given that teen loads of positive reinforcement from his peers.

With whatever program you dream up to do, be sure to offer to write letters of recommendation to everyone involved in these programs.  This sort of involvement needs to be on college applications and you can offer that too.

A long, long time ago in American history, new communities built the church building together and opened up those doors during the week for the education of the children. Since providing the first buildings for public education, the Church has slowly been pushed further and further out of public education until the two have become clearly separated.  For years, youth workers have been trying to get back on the school campus to have a presence.  Some have been met with open arms and many have been denied.  Some youth workers have even declared the high school the enemy of the Church as Group did with their cover story in their January 2, 2001 issue.

How about a new vision for this long-time conflict?  Now we can help public education, or more specifically the students of public education, by opening our doors for programs that used to be in the schools.  How ironic. The pendulum has nearly swung full circle back to the Church providing for the school. But isn’t that how God works out on the Wild Frontier?

Wild Frontier-thinking youth workers are going to see these new opportunities for what they are and possibly change their job descriptions to be able to reach even more teens for Christ. We have been having conversations for a long long time about how church youth ministry is undergoing big changes.  Here is yet another way.  Dream on.