“I’m excited about what you’re doing about the drop-out rate of high school students. It’s very important that what is envisioned by 20/20 takes root from the pulpit to the pews, and we become an army of people to invest in the life of tomorrow. I’m delighted to service and support 20/20 Vision for Schools.” – Dr. Tony Evans, President of the Urban Alternative
STAKEHOLDER PARTNERSHIPS ARE UNIQUELY POSITIONED FOR IMPACT
Community Stakeholders and the constituencies they lead are an underutilized leverage point in the fight for educational equity. Consider, for example, the multiplier effect that can be leveraged within churches all over New York.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
One thousand six hundred schools feels like a lot, until compared with 7,100 churches. Yes, there are at least four and a half churches in the five boroughs of New York City for every one public school.
Actually that 4.5:1 ratio scratches the surface, as 7,100 is a partial number of NYC churches that only includes congregations that identify as evangelical, Pentecostal, and/or charismatic (“New York’s New Hope” by Tony Carnes, Christianity Today, December 2004). A number that includes Orthodox, Catholic, and mainline Protestant churches is unavailable at this time. Nor is an ecumenical number representing the houses of worship of all faiths. Suffice to say, the real ratio is much larger.
Within those congregations, on any given Saturday or Sunday, 50-80% of the people in the pews are directly connected to a school. They are students, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, or otherwise related, teachers, custodians, support staff, or principals and administrators.
In other words, congregational members are already positioned for impact if only their leaders would activate them for service.
Imagine if 80% of the members at 4.5 churches engaged every school in New York City for reform. Dare we expect change to come?
20/20’s Paradigm Shift Overcomes Mistrust
The biggest challenge to Stakeholder participation in education reform, especially churches, is generational mistrust between community and school leaders.
Evangelicals, in particular, largely abandoned public education when the Supreme Court outlawed a 30-second nonsectarian, state imposed prayer almost half a century ago. For decades since, evangelicals have tended to talk about public education only to complain; erroneously claim that prayer is forbidden in schools; demand vouchers for private schools; protest sex education or science curricula; advocate evacuation in favor of religious or home schools; or visit campuses only to proselytize.
Churches must overcome mistrust by cultivating credibility and embracing schools as partners for equipping students to maximize their potential. Credibility starts by redefining campus ministry success the way the school defines success. A growing youth group roster or congregational conversion numbers should not matter to educators. Neither should they define church outreach to schools. Instead, more relevant metrics include: graduation and dropout rates, reading and math proficiency, extracurricular program offerings, and mentor/mentee relationships.
Credibility grows as congregations and other Stakeholder Organizations establish resumes of trust through acts of service that respond to felt needs at the school.
The People are Motivated
Churchgoers and other Community Stakeholders are uniquely motivated to right the wrong of educational injustice because of certain fundamental beliefs.
For example, within the Judeo-Christian tradition, pursuing justice is a Scriptural mandate. (Cf. Micah 6:8: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”) And the faithful, called to love one’s neighbors as oneself, are described as salt and light, “that the world may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt that loses its preservative and flavoring effects – or otherwise remains inside the saltshaker of our parishes, mosques, and synagogues – is useless.
When spiritual leaders nurture this motivation by equipping those in the pews for “the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12) and activating them for good deeds within schools, breakthroughs occur.