‘Wow, that boy’s got potential!’

Such was the almost unanimous comment from those who attended a school production I was at recently when we witnessed a rising star of the stage perform in his theatrical debut at the tender age of 10. It seemed everyone was wondering what would come from that small beginning.

There is something in us all, is there not, which loves to see potential developed? We sense a seed beginning to germinate and we look forward to the day when it will blossom in all its splendour. Can we say this also of our church life? Do we sometimes see beyond the here and now to the possible there and then? Surely we have to, if our churches are ever to grow and develop.

And what is true of the church, must apply too to the work of our churches in the community. Were we never to branch out into new territory, we would be poor Christians indeed and would not experience the thrill of seeing God at work in new ways and with people we had previously not thought of as potential church members.

I want to suggest to you that there are pupils in our local schools – lots and lots of them – who are potential new members of our churches either now or in the future, but for many of them, church is presently an alien place. They have never been invited to attend a service and may in fact never even have been inside a church building or met a Christian person. So how do we as church members go about tapping into this potential on our doorstep? How do we begin to reach out to those in the schools which often occupy the very same street as our church buildings?

Firstly, let us establish that this is no easy task. Like any other form of ‘mission’ it takes courage, it needs commitment and it will be a long-term project. Becoming involved in schools ministry is not just something to be tried out by those with an occasional free afternoon. It will require planning and much prayer if we are to see fruit for our efforts and if we are serious about wanting to develop potential amongst this younger generation.

So then, once we are committed to it, what practical steps can we take to exercise ‘schools ministry’?

Perhaps the easiest way to outline some ideas is to use the word POTENTIAL itself. Every situation is different and it is unlikely that you will have opportunity to take up all of the suggestions below but perhaps they will set you thinking as to what might work with your church members or in your local schools. The important bit is to take that vital first step and try! A world of young people is waiting.

Potential

  • Pray for the school.
    Could a group meet regularly to pray for the teachers and pupils during the school day? If asked, principals might be glad to provide prayer suggestions.
  • Offer to act as a voluntary classroom assistant.
    Many teachers would be glad of practical help for a few hours in the week from those who have been through the appropriate checks and training.
  • Take part in an RE class by arrangement with a teacher.
    Some teachers may be willing to accept help from any who have expertise in a particular aspect of the current RE curriculum. Some classes are required to find out about church buildings. Could you arrange for them to visit yours?
  • Encourage the work of Scripture Union in the school.
    If there is an established group, pray for it. Offers of practical help are often welcomed by busy teachers who run SU. If there is no group, pray about whether your church could offer to run one. SUNI staff will be glad to advise.
  • Note the extra-curricular activities and offer to help.
    Do any church members have expertise in a sport, music making, craft, or a foreign language? It might be just what a principal would appreciate as an extra activity after school.
  • Travel with a class on a day outing, or even for a residential.
    Regulations for non-teachers are more stringent these days but it is still worth enquiring if you can provide help for a day away with a class. It gives great opportunity to get to know both pupils and teachers better.
  • Introduce the idea of having an all-school service in your church. 
    Why not invite the principal to use your church to host a service where children and/or teachers take part and share something of school life with the congregation? This also encourages parents to attend church.
  • Act as a school governor.
    If given the opportunity to take up places on a Board of Governors, make sure you use it. Church members can exercise considerable Christian influence on the school this way.
  • Lend or let out equipment or facilities.
    Many small schools would be glad to have the use of a large hall occasionally. Could you offer to let them use your church hall? Or perhaps you have some sports or music equipment which could be shared on an occasional basis.

In all the above activities, it is essential to proceed with wisdom and grace, so that we get a good reception from the school. We need to convey the truth that we are anxious to serve the school community, not to evangelise them! However, who knows what God may use to draw pupils to Himself as they interact with Christians, perhaps for the first time. Jesus called children to Himself to enjoy His company and friendship. I believe His heart is still for children and young people and we His representatives have the privilege of reaching out to them in practical ways to assure them of His love for them.

May you be inspired to seek to develop the potential within the mission field on your church doorstep. We will be delighted to hear of any feedback from your efforts!

Heather Henry