Tony Evans pushes churches to adopt schools

by Karen L. Willoughby |

DALLAS (Christian Examiner) – A grass roots effort to intervene in the lives of children and teens before those lives need reclamation has grown out of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, where Tony Evans is pastor.

At least 50,000 students' lives have been impacted since the inner-city church, founded by Evans in 1976, began adopting schools 30 years ago – 52 to date, all still viable partnerships. Ten years ago Evans began training other churches to do the same and is as active as ever in recruiting churches to participate.

"I know the philosophy of church/school partnerships works because of the transformation that took place in my own life," Tony Evans says on initiative's website, www.ChurchAdoptASchool.org.

There are four day-long equipping conferences already on the calendar for spring: April 17 at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans; April 21 at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas; April 30 at Christian Fellowship Worship Center in Beaumont, Texas; and May 15 at First Baptist Church in Ferguson, Missouri.

"Our overall objective is that every church will adopt a school and do mentoring, tutoring, life skills education and family support services," Bill Collins told Christian Examiner. Collins is vice president at The Urban Alternative (TUA), the ministry arm of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. TUA oversees the National Adopt-A-School initiative. "We believe the church is uniquely equipped to do that.

"The ripest mission field in America resides in its public schools," Collins continued. "We are positioned not to proselytize but to provide support services for the schools and the at-risk students in those schools."

"Dr. Evans teaches that the church, not the government, is the best social service delivery system since it's closer to the needs of the people, offers the largest potential volunteer force, has facilities for outreach programs, and provides a moral and spiritual frame of reference for making right choices," he said.

The ability to read is a core issue.

"If a young person can't read by the fourth grade, there's a slim chance of graduating," Collins said. "Many drop out of middle school, and the biggest cause: a failure to learn to read. ...

"If you don't finish high school, it's very difficult to be gainfully employed in America, and the chances of going to prison are exponentially greater," Collins continued. "That's even more true for minorities."

Collins pointed to the example of one teen who came from a dysfunctional family.

He was paired with a mentor through the National Church Adopt-A-School initiative and now has graduated college and is in training for a track event at the next Olympics. Because someone was willing to take a personal interest, that person has gone from being a directionless delinquent to a determined, Collins said.

"The problems in our nation may seem overwhelming, but God has provided the answers to the issues of today in His Word," ministry leader added. "Since it can be difficult for churches that want to make an impact to know where to start, we have developed a national plan that can be implemented on a local level."

It is a plan with no built-in hierarchy and no reporting to a national organization. Churches simply respond to the needs expressed by the principal and teachers at a local school.

"It has almost a universal appeal; everybody agrees we're in trouble," Collins said. "The question is, how can you intervene to make a difference? Not everybody has a built-in support system. We're in a world with 30-year-old grandmothers. ...

"We feel strongly that every church in America should adopt a public school in their community," The Urban Alternative vice president continued. "We ask them to make a long-term commitment. This is as fundamental as prayer meeting on Wednesday or worship on Sunday, and part of connecting the spiritual with the social.

"What did Jesus mean when He said, 'I will build my church'? That was the first mention of church in the Bible, and Jesus said it when He was helping folk," Collins said. "And historically, it was the church – the great movements of our day, abolitionists, civil rights, all emanated from the church."

The Urban Alternative started in 1985 with one school. Oak Cliff Baptist Fellowship now works with 50-plus schools, some for more than 15 years. Volunteers for all these partnerships come from the congregation of about 8,000 in worship any given Sunday.

"The number of volunteers depends on the needs of the schools," Collins said. Mentoring might require 20 volunteers, depending on the size of the school. A principal might say, "I need four lunchroom monitors" or "I need three crossing guards."

The effort has expanded into 150 cities over the last 10 years and a total of about 4,500 churches participated in Adopt-A-School training since 2005.

"We get principals, counselors, congressmen at the trainings, not just pastors and churches," Collins said. "Community leaders too."