by Allison Spruil

As a Christian Educator I’ve been in many meetings in different churches discussing how the church can better reach families in the community. Many times suggestions involve hosting events at the church, and as a Church, we’ve been fairly successful inviting the community to join us for Vacation Bible Schools, Fall Festivals, and Christmas services.

Sometimes suggestions involve hosting events elsewhere in the community, like a park or other public space leading Easter egg hunts or holding worship services outside the building. However with all of these wonderful events, we invite others to COME and open our doors wide hoping they attend. Perhaps a better way to reach families in the community is to GO, opening doors to enter into relationships right where they are.

Last spring, I was very excited to learn about a new initiative in our conference, Congregations for Children (C4C). If you haven’t heard about C4C, here’s a synapsis from the newest handbook developed by our conference:

“Congregations for Children (C4C) is transforming the lives of children and families impacted by poverty through collaboration with public schools.

C4C is a process, rather than a program, by which the church/churches develop on-going partnerships with schools and each other in order to continually strengthen and expand support for our neighbors in need. Initiatives are monitored and evaluated in order to continue on the path to perfection.

Each church, school, and community is unique and therefore, the process should be uniquely developed according to the needs and resources available. Schools offer an opportunity to reach children and families who are often hidden and not a part of our daily lives.”

C4C focuses on four areas: Understanding poverty and advocacy, K-3 literacy, basic needs, and family engagement. Many of our churches contribute school supplies and some have backpack programs to help families with children. C4C expands those existing programs and encourages churches to engage with children where they spend the majority of their time, at school. By creating school partnerships, students are identified and surrounded by support from both the school and church.

One such way churches can help students is by serving as reading buddies. By having committed, consistent volunteers paired with the same child weekly, gains in reading levels and self-confidence occur. I saw this for myself, year after year as both a former literacy teacher and early elementary educator. If literacy skills are not developed in the primary grades (K-3), children fall further behind each year. However, if caught early, students can catch up quickly, making strides to perform on grade level by year’s end. This may change the path of a student’s life, opening doors of opportunity for years to come.

This year, along with opening our church doors to others, find out how you can form a Congregations for Children’s team of your own to open school doors as well. For more information contact Caroline Wood, Associate Director of Discipleship Ministry and Director of Mission Pathways at cwood@wnccumc.org.

Allison Spruill is the Minister of Discipleship at Central UMC, Canton, and serves as the C4C Team Leader for the Smoky Mountain District.

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