In recent decades, both churches and youth have faced significant challenges. Across the board, church attendance has seen a concerning decline, particularly among young people. Additionally, many teens who do attend church often drift away after graduation.
It is not surprising that the decline in church attendance parallels the worrisome decline in adolescent well-being. The prevalence of social media platforms, celebrity idol worship, drugs, alcohol, and pornography simultaneously connect and isolate our youth.
Furthermore, research indicates that religious children often lose their faith while under the supervision of parents who believe they are effectively transmitting their religious values.
Many churches are struggling to attract and keep youth engaged. Denominational leaders and church growth consultants have been promoting various “revitalization” ideas, with varying degrees of success.
This disheartening situation calls for a proactive response to shape future generations with culture-transforming, Christian worldview thinking.
It is no longer sufficient to rely solely on the brief hour or two spent at church on Sundays to counterbalance the influence of secular school culture during the remaining 35 hours of the week.
Outsourcing the education of our children to the state is no longer the best option, as it often fails to prioritize the values of the church and the home.
So, what can a church do? Is starting a school within the church an option worth considering? Is it an affordable option?
Fortunately, there is good news. The North Carolina General Assembly has made religious schooling economically feasible by significantly expanding the Opportunity Scholarship Program. This program now offers tuition assistance to all students in the Tar Heel state.
Scholarship amounts are determined based on family income, with low and middle-income families receiving the largest awards. This expansion benefits parents who previously could not afford private school tuition for their children.
For the 2023–2024 school year, students are eligible for scholarship grants from $3,246 to $7,213.
Since the advent of North Carolina’s voucher program a decade ago, numerous churches across the state started schools while others expanded existing schools. Private school enrollment has surged and has significantly outpaced the percentage of growth in traditional public schools.
Most of the scholarship money already goes to religious schools. Statewide, more than two-thirds of private school students are now attending religious schools.
The State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA) oversees the distribution of scholarship funds, which are paid directly to the schools.
Private Christian schools maintain their own academic, religious, and admission standards; and their First Amendment rights are fully protected. The state respects the autonomy of non-public schools in terms of religious and educational philosophies.
Many church buildings remain underutilized during the school week, offering potential space for classrooms, food service facilities, and recreational areas. Remodeling or constructing additional facilities to accommodate more students is an option, as is sharing space with nearby churches or leasing additional space.
Private schools have the flexibility to determine class sizes, and research suggests that smaller class sizes lead to better academic outcomes.
With the availability of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, churches should seize the opportunity to invest in a Christian school and extend their reach into the community.
Christian education offers numerous benefits, including better academic outcomes, lower costs, and the development of discipline and moral foundations that have become scarce in public schools.
With the monopoly on public education funds held by government-run schools, parents often find themselves ineffective in influencing curricula and values. By utilizing the scholarship vouchers, parents can choose schools that align with their beliefs and more effectively pass on their faith to their children.
And for churches, starting a school can be a powerful way to address the crisis of struggling youth and attendance numbers.