Thinking About Planting a Church in a School? Read This First

Resistance to renting schools to churches is being seen throughout the country, but this article gives you the tools you need to be successful in doing so.

A buddy of mine sent me this article written by USA Today Religion editor Cathy Grossman on the controversy surrounding churches meeting in schools. The question on the table is the constitutionality of churches meeting in public school facilities. On the side against church’s meeting in schools they say:

  • It’s unconstitutional because of the separation of church and state.
  • Leasing a school to a church is effectively subsidizing churches that would pay more on the open market.
  • The practice is biased to Christian groups, as the schools are most available on Sunday mornings, while other religions traditionally hold services during times the school is already in use.
  • If you allow evangelical groups to use the facility, you also have to allow any other religious group that may not be as appealing.

The main argument on the side of those who are for churches in schools say:

  • Churches shouldn’t be discriminated against simply because they want to rent a public facility like other groups can.

The article also points out the five fastest growing and largest school districts in the U.S. permit religious groups to hold services on weekends. Some school districts are getting very creative by writing in their contracts the facility can only be rented regularly for a short period of time, effectively eliminating new churches from being able to consider the schools as an option. This resistance to renting schools to churches isn’t just being felt in big cities. I’ve experienced problems with planters renting school facilities in the Bible Belt as well. Here are a few things to do before you try and rent a school:

  1. Read this article from Christian Post. It’s loaded with some good facts.
  2. Do a little research to see if churches already meet in schools within your district.
  3. Go meet the principals of the schools in your area. You should meet them anyway to learn about your community. When you do, ask them what the school’s policy is on renting the facility and get a copy of the contract. If possible, start serving the school in some tangible way. You’ll want to do this regardless, but it will help show the school you aren’t all words.
  4. Determine who the decision-maker is. In some cases, this is the principal, sometimes it’s decided on the superintendent level, other times the school board has to approve. Once you know who the decision-makers are, begin to have talks with them. Make sure to meet the principals first, though. Chances are the decision-makers will consult the principals. A good impression goes a long way.
  5. Bathe every conversation in prayer, asking God to give you the words to say.
  6. Don’t try and force open a closed door. Legal actions might get you in, but it’s going to also create a bad impression. Better to find a different facility and serve the school rather than get in the facility and close doors to be able to communicate the Gospel in word and deed to the school and its families.

What would you add to the list? What would you tell a church planter who is trying to get into a school facility?

Doug Foltz
Doug helps church planters clarify and implement their vision. He stands alongside church planters leveraging 15+ years of church planting experience with over 40 new churches to chart out a path toward realizing the God sized dream of making disciples through church planting.