LCMS School Ministry Article Featuring Zion

Blessed to be a Blessing                    

Nestled in the Ozark region of Southeast Kansas, Zion Lutheran Church and School in Independence, Kansas, is in a state of transition like many LCMS churches with schools.  Zion Lutheran School was established in 1898 for the purpose of providing Christian education for the members of the congregation.  Zion, mirroring the nationwide statistics, has seen a decrease in the number of school age children in the congregation.  But rather than see this as a negative, Zion Lutheran Church and School see this as a blessing and an opportunity.Seven years ago, after achieving National Lutheran School Accreditation, we established the following goal, “Zion Lutheran School demonstrates its Christian mission in the school, community, and world.”  A key strategy in implementing this goal stated, “In conjunction with the Board of Evangelism, we will develop, implement, and regularly evaluate, a comprehensive plan to reach out to the un-churched students of Zion Lutheran School, preschool through 8th grade.The plan did not bear fruit immediately, but as a result of education, prayer, and trust in the Lord, the harvest has begun.  First of all, Zion Church members needed education and time to understand the shifting paradigm of ministry.  The school was established to serve as daily reinforcement of the faith taught in the home and at church.   As the community of Independence changes due to an increasingly mobile society with a more diverse population, the purpose of our school is no longer just to reinforce Lutheran Christian parenting, but rather our purpose is mission outreach.  Ten years ago 62% of our students came from the congregation while now only 34% are members.  In an even more dramatic shift, 28 of our 76 families do not claim a church home.  Our teachers are in the mission field each and every day.  What an opportunity we have to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ!Building awareness in the congregation happened through the drafting of a new mission statement and regular communication and sharing at every opportunity.  Weekly bulletin inserts were written focusing on the activities of the school and featured accomplishments of individual students. Monthly newsletters pointed out the potential impact that our school has in equipping the next generation to share the Good News about Jesus.  Statistics showing that over 85% of our church growth in the last 15 years occurred through the school were shared at yearly town hall meetings.  But, the most effective means of educating our members about the mission of their school was to bring school families into contact with the members of Zion through regular singing of our children’s choir in worship services followed by social events and dinners on the church lawn.  These points of intersection allowed for school families to share with congregational members how important the school is to their families.   Another means of telling our story to the congregation is through our adult volunteer program.  Working one on one with a child, or serving lunch alongside a student plants them deep into the hearts and minds of our volunteering congregational members.Four years ago we implemented an Annual Fund Drive with a broader goal to reach out to alumni to share the new ministry of Zion Lutheran School.  This sharing resulted in increased giving to our scholarship program, and this year 23 children or 27% of our student body receives scholarship funds.  Many of these families do not attend church and we believe that God has brought them to Zion so we can reach out to these families and share the joy, peace, and salvation ey can hear the saving Gospel of Jesus and become connected to Him through our school family and congregation.Through continued prayer and communication, our church evangelism committee has now made the commitment to personally visit every family without a church home four times during the year.   The visits will include a small gift for the family or child and a brochure sharing information about the church as well as an invitation to general and seasonal worship opportunities.  Zion students follow Jesus’ mandate to love one another as we reach out into the community to serve.  Seventh and Eighth grade students walk once a month to spend time with residents in the local nursing home.  Each week every child writes a note to comfort or thank someone or just to let them know we are praying for them.  These simple notes or drawings which include scripture passages have been gratefully received and the thank you notes we receive in response are shared with the students at weekly chapel services.  The connections made in the congregation and in the community provide us with one more opportunity to reach out with the love of Christ.  Our students are learning lifelong lessons about being “Ablaze” to share God’s love through actions as well as words.

God is good!  This school year we experienced a fifteen percent growth in enrollment and our preschool was filled to capacity in early spring.  A new parent shared a comment from her son, “Mom, I know you and Dad don’t have to pay to send me to a public school, so I really want to thank you for sending me to Zion Lutheran School!  I really love hearing about Jesus every day!”