Decidedly Academic. Distinctively Christian.
Every year the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) partners with *Barna Group to create a report for school administrators that answers questions about the changing faith dynamic in America and its impact on schooling decisions for families. The 2017 report was just released and it included an insightful article written by FCS superintendent and ACSI board member, Bo Gutzwiller, about the relationship between the local church and Christian schools.
ONE MISSION UNDER GOD… INDIVISIBLE?”:
CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS AND THE LOCAL CHURCH
We believe Christian schools build generations of spiritually grounded, academically empowered young people who make a difference in our world. Barna’s findings in this report reveal that families are seeking Christian schools with these outcomes in mind for their children. The findings also confirm that ACSI schools are having a significant impact on a new generation of students and families.
This is valuable market information for Christian schools, especially with regard to Millennial parents. But the data also show a correlating alignment with the evangelical church’s mission to make disciples. Surprisingly, however, few pastors endorse Christian education as part of parents’ school choice process. This is a significant area of opportunity for Christian schools.
It is helpful to look at the factors that are important to parents who have chosen to enroll their children at an ACSI school alongside their ratings of how well the schools have actually performed in those areas.
Four of the top factors listed by parents who chose an ACSI school are related to matters of faith and values, spiritual formation, character development and other relationship-based dynamics. Factors in school choice include:
- Developing character: 94 percent are looking for a school that is intentional about developing character
- Community: 84 percent are looking for a school community that aligns with their beliefs
- Spiritual formation: 82 percent prefer a school that is intentional about spiritual formation
- Teachers: 98 percent value a faculty that cares about students and is accessible
Academics are also highly rated (95%), but the majority of influencing factors center on the aspects listed above. Similarly, parent goals for education include developing a love for God and people, strong values, faithfulness, wisdom, obedience to God and leadership. Isn’t it interesting that parent goals for their children’s education and the goals of good disciple-making are congruent?
The ratings given by parents after their experience at an ACSI school demonstrate that schools typically meet or exceed parent expectations on nearly every critical factor. Actual satisfaction ratings from ACSI parents are:
- Developing character: 91%
- Community: 91%
- Spiritual formation: 94%
- Teachers: 92%
Families find ACSI schools to be exactly what they were hoping for!
Until late in the 20th century, teachings of invaluable biblical truth were recognized and embedded in the very foundation of our country’s educational system. But who can argue today that those same values have been, and continue to be, steadily challenged by the spread of secular thought and a culture in moral decline?
In the ‘60s (when our school was founded) and well into the ‘70s, church leaders and congregations saw a world threatened by Cold War, civil unrest, political instability and even the threat of nuclear annihilation. The Christian school movement, sponsored mainly by churches, exploded across the country because church leaders believed our children needed to be fully prepared for the uncertain world they would inherit. During that same season, the ACSI movement, composed of church leaders, pastors and educators, advanced the cause of Christian education to establish its vital place in society.
Sadly, the strong bond that once linked Christian education, churches and the broader Christian community together in a shared calling looks very different today. When parents were asked if “the opinions or experiences of church leaders influenced their choice of school” (religious vs. public) only 9 percent of parents acknowledge pastors playing a part in their decision. The disconnect here is puzzling. Like the pull of the moon on the ocean’s tide, the Church has always had an “action-reaction” relationship with culture. As trends develop and society changes, especially away from biblical morals, the Church has always responded to stem the cultural undertow and equip believers to live a biblical lifestyle.
But there has been a steady and gradual distancing between churches and Christian schools. Why? If not the whole community of believers, who will stand in the gap and advocate for Christian education for such a time as this?
From a pulpit perspective, ACSI founding president Paul Kienel describes the weekly dilemma a pastor faces: “On any given Sunday, there are Christian school educators and public school educators in almost every service. If the pastor speaks out in support of either group, he risks offending the other.”
A pastor who seeks to relate to his or her congregation as a unified family might find tension in referencing Christian schooling versus public education. That said, one must agree that scripture doesn’t make a case for children being taught by non-believing teachers, but rather those who view biblical truth in a manner compatible with the child’s parents.
So what could this imply for the relationship between the priorities of a church and a Christian school? Dr. Kienel sees it this way: “Both institutions are essential to the spiritual and intellectual well-being of future church members and the greater Christian community.”
The effectiveness of private Christian schools on this front—that is, Christian school graduates becoming responsible church members—is clearly supported by the Cardus Education Survey: Private Schools for the Public Good (2014). The longitudinal study demonstrates that the Christian school’s mission (and its effectiveness) is in clear alignment with the mission of evangelical churches.
The findings from Cardus and Barna should be incredibly encouraging to Christian school administrators. The mission of Christian schools is being fulfilled, and one key benefactor is the Church. Christian schools have a great story to tell—but we need to do a better job telling it.
The Barna findings should serve to motivate serious reflection by school and church leaders alike. Christian school leaders must take a proactive approach to initiate conversations with local pastors. It’s not just about providing talking points; we must create venues for dialogue and relationship-building. Hosting a luncheon on campus for area pastors could be helpful. Or consider offering to speak at the local ministerial association.
ASCI President Dan Egeler emphasizes the role of ACSI as a convener, not a container. Perhaps school administrators can take a similar approach to church leaders, bringing companion ministries together in order to better function as the “Church beyond the walls.” Our missions are aligned. Now we must strengthen the partnerships that can fulfill the mission.
To read the article from the report, click here!
*Barna Group is a research firm dedicated to providing actionable insights on faith and culture, with a particular focus on the Christian church. In its 32-year history, Barna Group has conducted more than one million interviews in the course of hundreds of studies, and has become a go-to source for organizations that want to better understand a complex and changing world from a faith perspective.