Schools and churches sit atop the list of our society's largest entities. Add together the number of attendees and employees in each, and no other institutions come close. Ironically, both feature a building or gathering place, large numbers of people organized, and workers tasked with guiding and caring for those people.
So what can one learn from the other? After 10 years on a church staff, 14 years as a parent of children in schools (K-12), and 4 years of leading an organization that partners churches and schools across the country, I see plenty that both can share. A previous column focused on 3 trends in schools and the lessons they contained for churches. Now, 3 valuable characteristics of churches that could benefit schools will go up on the board for discussion.
Number 1: A Strong Reason to Volunteer
Two years ago, my wife and I received a letter from our child's high school asking us to volunteer at the after-prom activities. Why should we serve the 2-4:30 a.m. shift? Because we are parents of a student in the junior class. That's as motivating as being selected to stand in the "special" lane at an airport security checkpoint; while I'd rather not do it, "no" isn't a possible answer.
Many (but I admit not all) churches take a very different approach to fill volunteer roles. Rather than expecting people to acquiesce because of an impersonal selection process, or manipulated out of guilt, churches have discovered that a compelling vision will attract people eager to put their talents to use. The opportunity to serve in something important, to participate in an effort larger than themselves, and to join with others and accomplish a worthy goal will unleash enthusiasm to volunteer.
A few simple steps will transform volunteerism in any setting: Share with potential volunteers a compelling reason why their efforts will make a difference in their student and in others, remind them often about the difference they make, and clearly thank them for their service. Warning: Possible side effects include excellence, extra effort, and excitement that attracts additional dedicated workers.
Number 2: Strong Families Need Strong Parents
Many schools offer activities for the family. Many involve the family attending together, with the focus on a child—in a talent show, an athletic contest, a music performance, etc. Sure, some offer a family fun night (to volunteer, see the first point), field day, or pancake breakfast—but those activities still tend to focus on students. These are all good, no doubt, and should continue. But they do little to strengthen families.
A growing number of churches now see that the key to strengthening families might not involve filling the calendar with more items for everyone to attend. Rather, their focus falls on educating, equipping, and inspiring a parent in his or her role as the greatest influence on a child and, thus, the family. Seminars, workshops, and community events designed specifically for parents more frequently appear on church calendars these days. As a speaker in this category, topics covered stretch from basic parenting skills to how a parent serves as a family's spiritual leader. Schools enjoy the attention of parents who may or may not attend a church—but nearly all could use parental coaching tips. Whether a school serves as the location for events, recommends resources, or makes parents aware of opportunities in the community, many moms and dads would benefit.
Stronger parents will mean stronger families. Schools want stronger families. Churches do too. The difference is that the churches are taking a more direct and active role in reaching out to parents. Schools can and should do the same. Neither entity needs to worry about competition—there are plenty of parents reached by no one today.