School is right around the corner on the calendar. With a new school year approaching families are gearing up for the return of early mornings and hitting the stores to purchase school supplies, backpacks, lunchboxes and school clothes. While many parents love filling their child’s new backpacks with unopened packages of pencils, loose leaf notebook paper, colored pencils, glue sticks and whatever else is on their school supply list, many also dread this time of year. An average school supply list can cost between $50-$100. This often doesn’t include a new backpack, lunch box or the other miscellaneous fees that are part of school registration.
The beginning of the school year can be a very stressful time, financially, for many families. Thankfully this is also an ideal time for churches to step in and fill in some gaps for these families. What a great way for the body of Christ to tangibly be His hands and feet to the families of these children that Jesus loves! What a great way to physically come alongside a family and provide some support! What a great way to show parents that we understand the importance of education and support them in making that possible for their child!
There are so many creative ways to do this and hopefully build relationship with these families without disrespecting their role as the parent and provider for their child.
1) Host an Ice Cream Social
Create a list of the most common supplies needed from your local elementary, middle and high schools and provide your congregation with this list. Two weeks prior to the event ask your church members to begin donating school supplies. Host an ice cream social for your families with school age children and encourage them to invite other families that may not attend your church. Have the supplies organized in complete packs to hand out to each child according to grade or have the school supply lists available for parents to come and pick out exactly what their child needs for their class.
2) Have a Block Party
Pick a neighborhood or apartment complex that you know has many families with school age children that might financially appreciate the blessing of school supplies. Contact the local authorities or management to seek approval to have an event. Advertise or even go door-to-door to invite families to the block party. Provide kid friendly food and music, even games to encourage families to come and socialize. Make sure to recruit families from your own children’s ministry to come out and help volunteer, but also get to know these new families. Have new backpacks with school supplies available for the children that come to the block party.
3) Adopt a Local Elementary School
Identify an elementary school that has children with significant financial needs. Meet with the principal and guidance counselor to determine the best way for your church to love on their children. Perhaps it is through providing backpacks and school supplies, or providing some kind of playground equipment, or starting a scholarship for children that normally don’t get to attend field trips due to financial need. Then as a congregation work to support their teachers. You can provide gift cards to Walmart to buy beginning of the year school supplies, or get a wish list from each teacher and challenge Sunday school classes or small groups to adopt a teacher and fulfill those wish lists. Ask the principal for any maintenance needs the school might have and commission a small group to come paint, repair or meet whatever that need might be.
There are many, many ways to support families in your community during the back to school season. Naturally the hope and desire is for families to become connected with the church body and through community begin to attend your church. However, don’t make that your primary goal. We want to be known as believers that love others and serve others because that is what we are called to do by our Savior that served us. If your main intention is to gain church members, these families will sense that and be turned off.
Instead, seek to bless families and help them start the school year off well prepared. Giving to those in your community with no strings attached and no agenda will resonate with them. They will remember your church as a community of generous and unselfish people. That is attractive and can eventually lead to relationship and community, which is truly the goal. Attendance doesn’t mean community, however relationship is the key.
This kind of investment in families certainly requires a financial sacrifice. It also requires volunteers to give of their time and their resources. However, the gains of truly investing in your community and in the children of your community will bring great long-term reward.
What ways can your body of believers love on families during this new school year?