Feature

Taking the Gospel Back to School

An Alliance church’s Good News Club

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Nine years ago, when I began ministry at Kingston (N.Y.) Alliance Church, there were few elementary children who regularly attended services. As I considered how to reach out to children in the community, I realized there needed to be a place outsiders felt comfortable coming to. Our church leaders decided to begin an after-school program at the public school three of the church children attended.

We chose Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Good News Club (GNC) as our curriculum and began to promote the program. There was push back from the school district regarding the distribution of flyers throughout the school because it contained the word “Bible.” Even after the GNC attorney sent a letter stating the position of the New York State Supreme Court, which ruled that the club could not be discriminated against on the basis of religious affiliation, permission to advertise within the school was denied. Rather than engage in a legal battle, the GNC team decided to commit this to prayer and wait on the Lord. The local school, however, was an excellent host, and the group slowly grew from 6 children in the first year to 13 by the third year.

In June 2010, representatives from the city’s religious organizations were invited to meet with state youth workers and the local police chief. Pastors and religious leaders listened for an hour as research was presented showing that children who were given religious instruction were less likely to be involved in gangs or to use drugs. The state workers asked the pastors to place church volunteers more often in the public square, even though the state could not fund faith-based activities.

This seemed the perfect opportunity for me to speak about GNC. I mentioned that attendance at the club included some children from our church, some from other churches and some with no religious affiliation. The whole group felt that this was the sort of program the school needed.

Then I shared that while the school was a gracious host, the club had been denied permission to publicize like any other group using the building. Every year the church had gently presented the attorney’s letter, and every year the superintendent would say that while he had read it, he would not permit the club to advertise. Several community leaders and a school board member expressed their support.

That fall, Jolyn Safron, our church board secretary, was appointed to the District Wide Parent Council Executive Committee. In a personal meeting with the superintendent, she asked if he would consider our advertising flyer for GNC for the coming year. Although it was still clearly a Bible-based program, he approved!

Our GNC gave invitations to the entire student body, roughly 500 children. Our group expanded to 20, and this past school year, because we had run out of classroom space and lacked the workers to expand, we had to cap attendance at 30 and begin a waiting list.

Besides increasing our numbers, God has blessed us in other ways. When the principal at the school where we had been meeting left, we prayed. God answered by giving us a gentleman who is a member of a sister evangelical church. Teachers are encouraging students in English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes to participate in our club because we use simple words, lots of graphics and many songs. The last few years we have been in the same classroom with the same teacher. She has been very accommodating, and we in turn have had opportunities to minister to her.

GNC brings us children with no point of reference to the Bible; some are from families of other religions, some are looking for “religious teaching” and others are from Christian homes. We experience untold blessings from seeing these children come to a better understanding of God and what He has done for them.

One child joined us as a kindergartner and boldly reacted to a Bible story: “Who would believe that stuff anyway?” Now, as a sixth grader and GNC graduate, she faithfully attends Sunday school and church. This year she served for the first time as a helper at vacation Bible school even though the rest of her family shows little interest in the spiritual life.

Some of the ESL students were from a strong evangelical Asian family that is now active in our church. They in turn have encouraged a family of three other GNC students and their mother to attend Sunday school and church. These children have embraced the gospel and are teaching their Buddhist mother that only Jesus saves.

Running an afterschool GNC takes committed workers, but there is a ripe harvest in our elementary schools. We hope that other churches will consider taking the gospel back to school in similar ways.

Past Alliance Life Issues

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