Youth Ministry Partnerships with Schools

Youth Specialties
August 18th, 2016

We’re excited to have Abel López as one of our NYWC speakers. This blog post is a great start to the conversations he’ll be navigating in his seminars. Check out more information HERE.

In today’s culture it can be next to impossible to find opportunities for effective ministry in the public schools. How can you reach a world that so desperately needs the direction and encouragement of the Gospel but is so effectively barricaded against it? CLAY Student Leadership is actively engaging the school system with values and encouragement that are helpful to parents and students and attractive to the schools, seeking to pull churches from the background and engage them with their communities.

CLAY Student Leadership is a leadership and life-skills development curriculum that works on-campus in schools to bring about personal growth in students through the support and partnership of teachers, parents, and communities. Since its inception, CLAY’s mission of Caring and Loving All Youth (CLAY) has helped to decrease the maladaptive behaviors of at-risk students and to increase the effectiveness of at-promise students by partnering with churches, schools, and community organizations to foster a community-based approach to student transformation.

CLAY is currently the leadership curriculum being used by all middle schools in the Dallas Independent School District, it is active in DISD elementary schools, and it is currently looking to expand into more communities in more cities.

The impact of CLAY programming in schools has been significant and measurable – through rising grades, decreasing office referrals, rising parental attendance at events, and the testimony of teachers and school administration to a change in attitudes and behaviors. What makes CLAY’s curriculum and programming unique, is that the focus is not on pinpointing and correcting negative behaviors, but rather on developing and nurturing strong character by pinpointing attitudes and root motivations.


CLAY seeks to impact communities through partnership with local churches that can be on the ground in the community, so our initiative to facilitate this is the CLAY Church Partnerships. Through the teaming up of CLAY, schools, and a local churches, relationships are created that will connect a church with the families in its community and neighborhoods, which then opens up avenues of communication and opportunities for ministry that were not previously available. Ultimately the Church is the foundation for

growth and strengthening of relationships and ministry, so the concept is to build these school relationships with a solid support system and reference point.

The manifestation of this partnership is practical and purposeful. Once a church has paired up with an interested local school, volunteers from that church are trained for programming then assigned to a classroom for the duration of the school year. In this way an intentional, structured mentorship of one church volunteer to approximately 25 students is created. Each of these volunteers will teach and interact with that same classroom of students two times a month for an entire school year. With this structuring of interaction and mentorship, every student in the participating school or grade is impacted, with no child or family overlooked. Additionally, twice a semester there is an event called “Parent University”, which brings the parents, students, school administration, and church volunteers together to build relationships and give further opportunities for interactions, relationship-building, and ministry.


CLAY was developed to address a specific need in the next generation: a need to better understand responsibility, hope, and purpose. CLAY takes basic principles and reteaches them to a generation that is unfamiliar with concepts such as personal responsibility, respect, humility, prudence, and teachability. The program’s unique youth-friendly curriculum engages students through music, journaling, and consistent mentorship, instilling leadership values through an interactive experience that allows students to absorb and apply simple truths. Particularly unique to CLAY, the program addresses both the individual student and the family environment that plays a crucial role in growing and influencing the student, by teaching parents the same lessons as those taught to the students, and encouraging them to work on these principles together. Family team-building and intentional leadership seminars equip parents to take an active role in the lives of their children.


Feedback from students is overwhelmingly positive, as shown on student surveys where students have written that CLAY

  • “helped me to make better decisions and to help others,”
  • “helped me to get stronger at reading and doing my homework and trying to
  • lead myself,”
  • “taught me how to mentor people and to reach my goals,” and even that it helped them to “know that my friends and teachers worry about how I need help.”

Teachers also have been impressed with the effect that CLAY has, as shared by Mrs. Chaney from Northlake Elementary in her testimonial:

“I think CLAY has been very powerful for the students. They are attentive, interested, and very responsive. I feel this program has been very inspiring to the students. As a teacher, I often refer back to the lessons when dealing with behavior issues. Being able to remind the students about life lessons is very helpful when getting students back on track.”

Connecting local churches and communities is a work that requires love and intentionality. By impressing the local schools with volunteers who care and programming that works and helps to bridge difficult gaps in understanding and desires, doors are opened to relationships that can lead to discipleship and lasting hope.

Abel Lopez-minAbel López is the president and founder of Clay Student Leadership, a dynamic, six-year leadership curriculum focused on reaching students in the public schools. He holds a master’s degree in leadership from Indiana Wesleyan University, and he was a youth pastor for 18 years. Abel is the author of 12 Fundamental Keys to Developing an Effective Youth Ministry and The Leadership Bible. He lives in Dallas with his wife, Mary, their children, and grandchildren.

Youth Specialties

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.