6 Ideas For Your Youth Ministry To Impact Schools

Travis Deans
January 27th, 2020

Two hundred years ago the local church was the center of community. However, community has centered around something else – the school. Just go to a Friday night football game or the spring musical or a graduation ceremony. A giant portion of your community is connected to the local school district. If 95% of Americans go through the public school system – it’s a pipeline of people that we should not ignore!

For churches with a passion to reach the lost in their community, a strategy to reach the public schools is a must! Unfortunately, it seems that the church has abandoned public schools by and large in part because of “separation of church and state” (a topic for another article another time) and in part because we just don’t know what to do.

In a way this reminds me of what many of our churches do in regards to countries where we want to send missionaries but it’s dangerous to share the Gospel. We call those creative access countries – we can still have an impact in those places but just have to do so more carefully.  In the case of public schools, I suggest churches realize that while they may face closed doors at first, there are no closed doors where the Holy Spirit is concerned. He can and does work in spite of all human boundaries!

So what can churches do?


Greg Stier from Dare 2 Share Ministries likes to say, prayer is the air cover for the mission. There are so many creative ways to pray for schools and we should do so with the same seriousness and intentionality that we do with countries where we send missionaries. Moms in Prayer is a great resource for this and provides great ideas.  Youth Alive’s Prayer Zone Partners is another great way churches can pray (google them!). And Claim Your Campus is a powerful app-based tool that encourage teenagers to pray for their schools. Speaking of teenagers….


In his book “Revolution in World Missions” KP Yohannan shared this crazy idea – there are some places in the world where we should, instead of sending missionaries, support the missionaries who are already there on the ground. In the case of public schools, the people who can make the greatest impact for the Kingdom of God are already there – our students! They just need challenged, equipped, and supported to see their school as a mission field. We like to challenge students to think of their school as a 9 Month Mission Trip – it’s not just that they have to be there, but God is sending them there to make a difference. 

In fact – I helped write for a new resource called Campus One Day. It’s a how-to-guide to help create campus missionaries from your network. Download it here!


In addition to the missionaries who are already on the ground there are usually ministries in place reaching many of the schools around our country. If there’s a First Priority, FCA, Youth Alive, Young Life, or any other campus ministry organization near you, meet with them and discuss ways that your church can partner with them to reach the campus. We see all of those organizations as pieces of a puzzle – they are all needed to reach the hundreds and hundreds of students in any given school. We encourage you to work with these organizations and to encourage them to work together! If none of these organizations exist in your area, Student Outreach Clubs is a way that your church can impact the schools near you in a creative and fun way.


For many of us, going to the principal’s office still strikes fear in our hearts! But one of the most effective ways to impact a school is to simply meet the principal – but HOW you approach that is very important. I always encourage pastors and youth pastors to approach school administrators as the experts on students in your community – because they really are. If you said something like, “We work with students in the school district and we were wondering if we could meet to learn from you what are the challenges that students in our area are facing?” I have seen that approach provide a goldmine of insights into youth culture as well as lead to opportunities for the church to come alongside the school. I once heard a principal say “I wish we could go back to the days when kids smoked marijuana – it was so much easier than what they are doing now.” Schools desperately need help. But they are afraid of our help because of potential complaints and lawsuits. However, that fear can frequently be overcome by building a relationship based on time, humility, trust, and respect.


I recently heard of a church that regularly brings snacks and beverages to the school for the teachers lounge. I know of youth pastors who serve as character coaches for sports teams (with FCA generally). Providing school supplies and backpacks is another common and effective way to serve schools. Be creative – and build on the relationship your church has with the school. Several years ago, we had a tragic event at a school in our area and the relationships that local churches had with that school became a key resource in helping students get through that difficult time. One church was utilized as a counseling center for students in part because of their proximity but more because they had a long and strong relationship with the school. We hope your church never has to serve in this way but if the need arises, be ready!


The last thing that a school needs is to try to negotiate churches that are competing with each other – that’s a headache no principal wants! So do what you can to connect with other churches in your community to approach this mission field together. The delicate nature of our relationship with schools requires us to get over our pride and ambitions and do what is best for others not just ourselves. If you are serious about reaching the schools in your community, do it as a team – the school will find that refreshing, encouraging, and reassuring.

Schools are a mission field full of students AND adults who need to hear about Jesus. We encourage your church to adopt the school near you (literally adopt it by going to www.everyschool.com and claiming a school) and make a plan to reach that school just like you would any mission field where people need Jesus.

This post originally appeared on the National Network For Youth Ministries. To learn more about the NNYM and their vision for networking among youth workers, visit www.youthworkers.net

Travis Deans

For the last 23 years, Travis Deans has been helping high school students share their faith in their schools with confidence and creativity through Student Outreach Clubs. Travis is also a local youth pastor in the Pittsburgh region and a graduate of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.