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Reading, Writing and Reaching Out

AG churches open doors to families seeking Christian education

By Christina Quick
April 17, 2011

Every Monday morning, as children and teens across the country head to school, some file into Assemblies of God church buildings. They tote textbooks, gym bags, musical instruments and all the other accoutrements of a well-rounded education.

More than 800 Assemblies of God churches in the United States operate private schools or daycares, according to the Association of Christian Teachers and Schools (ACTS), an educational support organization established by AG school administrators. These congregations view education and child care as vital tools for reaching and serving their communities.

“A Christian school within a church is a ministry of the Great Commission to reach and teach and disciple,” says Ike Stokes, ACTS office manager. “It can be a way to disciple church members and attendees as well as open the doors to the community.”

Each learning institution is as different as the community it serves, Stokes says. The smallest Assemblies of God school, located in a rural New Jersey township, caters to just 11 students. Others enroll hundreds of students, who have opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities ranging from drama and marching band to basketball and track.

Cedar Park Christian Schools near Seattle — with six campuses serving nearly 2,000 students — is the largest Assemblies of God school system and one of the biggest evangelical Christian schools in the nation.

Cedar Park Assembly of God opened a preschool in 1982, offering instruction for eight students. Soon the school expanded through eighth grade. The sprawling private school system now includes two high schools, four elementary schools and a separate preschool campus.

“The basic motivation for founding Cedar Park Christian Schools was the desire to establish a clearly Christian education perspective of teaching and philosophy that is unmistakably unique from the secular educational environment,” says Superintendent Clint Behrends. “In a day when many churches are groping for creative methods of influencing an increasingly pagan world with the message of Jesus Christ, Cedar Park Assembly of God has established one of the most effective and needed ministries possible for reaching America’s culture.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, enrollment in private schools fell by nearly half a million students between 2001 and 2008. Yet Cedar Park is flourishing. During the past 15 years, the school system has added, on average, 100 students to its rosters annually.

“A fundamental element to the vision and success of Cedar Park Christian Schools has always been the realization that expansion, facilities and growth come only as a result of keeping first things first,” Behrends says. “Our central theme is building strong, healthy Christian young people who understand the world from a Christian perspective. The heart of our schools is the belief that the basis for all truth is God and His Word.”

Other AG elementary and secondary schools similarly have defied national statistics by expanding their enrollment figures in recent years.

“Despite a downturn in the economy, our student body has grown in numbers, and commitments to Christ have increased over the past several years,” says Paul Miklich, administrator of Christ Chapel Academy (CCA) in Woodbridge, Va.

A ministry of Christ Chapel Assembly of God, the school began as a part-time preschool program in 1984. A decade later, elementary grades were added. In 2009, CCA graduated its first class of high school seniors. The school now has an enrollment of 560 students in preschool through 12th grade.

The school has a unique partnership with Valley Forge Christian College, an AG college based in Phoenixville, Pa. Through a satellite center at Christ Chapel Assembly, CCA students can earn up to 20 college credit hours during high school.

Located 25 miles from Washington, D.C., Christ Chapel Academy attracts families from a wide variety of backgrounds. During the past 18 months, more than 170 students have accepted Christ as Savior. At recent school assemblies, nearly 50 of these new converts were baptized in water.

“A church and school staff that prays together and understands that Christ’s mission is to go into the earth and make disciples will be successful,” Miklich says. “They will raise a generation that is prepared to be the Christian leaders in all areas of life.”

Kevin Marcus says the school’s spiritual environment helped his three young daughters cope with their mother’s death from cancer in 2007.

“It provided comfort and stability,” Marcus says. “Having godly teachers who start each class with prayer puts the emphasis on what is truly important in life.”

Stokes says AG private schools have a good track record for academic success as well.

“Along with discipling students and presenting them with a biblical worldview, our schools are providing an excellent education,” Stokes says. “Students graduating from AG schools have received full-ride scholarships to prestigious universities throughout the U.S.”

The 58 members of the 2010 graduating class at Christian Life School in Kenosha, Wis., received a collective $1.8 million in college scholarships and grants. The average ACT score was 23.8, nearly three points above the national average for the standardized test for college admission.

“The greatest reward is when we see alumni come back and share their testimony,” says Susan Nelson, administrator of the school, a ministry of Kenosha First Assembly of God. “Our graduates include lawyers, teachers, a heart surgeon and a pastor leading a church of over 1,000.”

A church-based school is the ideal setting for shaping the next generation of Christian leaders, according to Davey Ray, administrator of Evangel Christian Academy in Montgomery, Ala., a ministry of Evangel Temple, an AG church.

“What better way to bring the Word of God to people than in a school, where you have young people who are ready to be taught and sent out themselves?” Ray asks.

Yvonne Paterson, whose three children attend Evangel Christian Academy, says she appreciates the spiritual and academic benefits of Christian education.

“There’s certainly no substitute for spiritual leadership in the home from parents,” she says, “but to have that biblical worldview and value system reinforced by teachers and staff at school every day is an invaluable asset to anyone seeking to train up a child in the way he should go.”

CHRISTINA QUICK is a freelance writer and former Pentecostal Evangel staff writer. She attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Mo.

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