Three years ago, a pastor, passionate about providing a biblical worldview to the children in his community, wrestled with this dilemma: “We can’t stop our Christian school at eighth grade, but we’re also not providing a solid education to the dozen high schoolers we are currently shepherding.”
When he assumed his pastoral role, he additionally inherited a school which had been in existence for twenty years. Unfortunately, it had continually struggled to offer a competitive Christian education past the eighth grade. Year after year, he witnessed students depart and pursue a secular education at a most critical time when young adults begin to grapple with worldview ideas and require guidance in solidifying the defense of their faith with impactful logic and reasoning skills.
This same issue plagues many Christian schools. While administrators seek to have a greater impact in their community and grow their enrollment, Christian parents are simultaneously targeting a complete educational program: one which embodies spiritual discipleship for their students, a professionally developed faculty, sufficient course offerings, ample opportunities in athletics and the arts, and an overall program that provides validity for future college and career plans. Meeting these expectations, especially in the high school grades, can be both challenging and costly. Christian school administrators and boards attempt a “build it, and they will come” approach, only to find themselves in a downward financial spiral they can’t overcome. On their own and with limited resources, a small Christian school’s journey to legitimacy often fails prematurely.
Collaborative partnerships can be a powerful path for growing the impact of Christian education. Unfortunately, the myopic views of most Christian schools and churches hinder their ability to recognize the more significant opportunities available to them through partnering. The church in Corinth also struggled to see the big picture of God’s Kingdom when they became divisive around different ministers. Paul reminded them in 1 Corinthians 3 that “we are God’s fellow workers” in His Kingdom, based on the same foundation, and working toward the same goal of growing and strengthening the body of Christ. Christian schools often fall into this same trap of being too hyper-focused on growing their own organizations. We must not view each other as competitors but as co-laborers to provide as many children as possible a biblical worldview education. By supporting one another, sharing resources, and developing a collaborative plan, Christian schools can claim much more ground in the fight for His children.
The aforementioned pastor reached out to the Renewanation team for support in determining a path to keep these students connected to Christian education throughout their high school years. Renewanation had already been helping another small Christian school 30 minutes away. With an enrollment of fewer than 50 students, we had encouraged them to partner with local homeschool groups and other small Christian schools to strengthen their capabilities and offerings. By combining their resources with these like-minded believers, they would jointly be able to provide additional offerings such as special electives, technology integration, spiritual emphasis events, and athletic programs that were not possible without their combined enrollment. Once connected, these two schools jointly engaged in athletic and spiritual emphasis programs, facilitating the development of solid relationships among school leaders, parents, and the student body.
In the middle of the second year of collaboration, the potential long-term fruit of this synergistic relationship was obvious. However, aligning two Christian school boards and two church boards around a mutual path forward presented a significant challenge. Renewanation facilitated discussions between the two pastors, each from different denominational backgrounds, to establish alignment on primary doctrinal issues and structure a conceptual path for partnering. These two Kingdom-minded pastors agreed that the greatest impact to the local community and God’s Kingdom would be realized outside of growing either of their own church and school kingdoms. Their focus must be on the overall health (spiritual, academic, financial, etc.) of the two entities to accomplish the shared goal of increasing the number of children that would receive a biblical worldview education. Space considerations, existing enrollment numbers, and neighboring educational options helped to solidify which school would become the feeder entity. With a general framework outlined, both school boards and both church leadership teams voted to begin detailed discussions.
Covered in continual prayer, a collaborative “tiger team” with trusted representatives from each Christian school and each church leadership team was assembled to establish a collaborative path forward. Renewanation facilitated the team through a two-month process to map out key considerations including schedules, curriculum, extracurricular activities, transportation, and tuition rates. Finally, the team designed a tuition-sharing program for students transitioning from the feeder school, providing financial benefit to both schools. This step confirmed the commitment from each school to make this partnership a long-term, “win-win” relationship. With trust already secured over the past school year and a common goal clearly articulated from leadership, these detailed discussions were both positive and productive.
As is often the case, the most difficult aspect of this transition was communication: to board members, teachers, students, parents, and church members. Multiple forums were synchronized around a timeline to ensure key stakeholders were presented the path forward and allowed to address their questions and concerns in a timely fashion prior to the end of that school year. Each communication was designed specifically for the target audience.
While developing the perfect recipe for partnership is not possible, given the varying circumstances surrounding each situation, there are certainly a few key success factors to incorporate into a Christian school collaboration effort:
Identify a “Big Picture” Champion to Facilitate Collaboration → Objective, Trusted Facilitator
Secure Leadership Commitment and Alignment → Big “K” Kingdom Focus
Foster Teamwork and Build Trust → Event-based, Relationship-building Approach
Establish a Win-Win Agreement → Prayerful, Joint Core Team Sharing the Vision
Pay Attention to the Details → Thorough Assessment of All Christian School Elements
Plan Communications Carefully → Crafted with Audience and Timing in Mind
As the new school year was launched, the combined enrollment from the two Christian schools grew from 212 to 270, a 27% increase. Thirteen of the fifteen eligible students made the transition from the feeder school to the partner high school, with the other two students also remaining in Christian education (one homeschooled, one in another neighboring Christian school). Additionally, each school reported improved financial health as a result of the collaborative path. These pastors and administrators gained a refreshing realization that partnering could establish a better foundation for God to provide growth and yield amazing results.
Partnering cultivates impactful Kingdom rewards. Stay open to how God may use your Christian school to reach more children in your community with a biblical worldview education. For further discussion on how Renewanation can best support your Christian school, contact us today at email@example.com or 1-855-TO-RENEW.
Ron Gordon is Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer of Renewanation and brings strong education and executive experience to the cause. Ron holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering and an MBA from Virginia Tech. Ron’s wife, Tonya, is a trained and passionate educator. They have twin boys, Caleb and Jacob, and a daughter, Gracie.