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Community Conversation Starter

IMPACT 24/7 promotes church, school partnerships.

In his first ministry assignment as youth pastor of King’s Circle Assembly of God in Corvallis, Oregon, Chris Weber knew his outreach included connecting with kids in neighborhood schools.

The turning point in what Weber, now 26, thought that outreach should look like occurred after he met Wes Sheley, an AG U.S. Missions Youth Alive missionary based in Albany, Oregon. Sheley understands the challenges of ministry to students. Public school administrators, especially in the largely secular northwestern United States, are wary of allowing access to Christian groups.

Sheley, 38, founded IMPACT 24-7, a public nonprofit serving Oregon and Idaho to serve as a liaison between school administrators, community residents, and churches interested in becoming more involved in meeting needs at local schools.

“My goal is connecting every church with a school or somewhere in the community, a focus somewhere outside the four walls,” Sheley says. “What if the church adopted a school and went to sporting events or helped with resources? If you want to reach the community, you reach the school.”

To that end, Sheley facilitates creating such partnerships between schools and the community. For example, for a church that wants to connect its members with students in mentorships, he helps design a program and work out logistics and the legal aspects, such as liability and volunteers’ background checks.

In contrast to the goal of pastoral visits to schools being to get students to go to church youth services — as Weber once believed — Sheley promotes launching outreach from a 10-minute relationship-building conversation with a principal that starts by Sheley asking what he can do to help.

“You have to prove to the school that you have no agenda except seeing students succeed and make good choices for their lives,” Sheley says. “You have to be willing to be in it for the long haul.”

This ministry model involves a shift in perspective in which the church’s leadership is on board, he says. To that end, Sheley visits churches throughout his region promoting Christian involvement in schools and offering to help them get started.

Once Weber assured the principal of Cheldelin Middle School that his agenda wasn’t recruiting for his youth group, the principal answered Weber’s question without hesitation. The after-school tutoring program needed volunteers. 

In three years, Weber’s service to his school has expanded from one to three hours per week. He’s recruited others from the church to lend a hand. Three years later, Sheley points to Weber as a model for church involvement in the neighborhood.

The church where Weber is on staff keeps the participation prize bin stocked for the 20 students who receive help each afternoon. His conversations with students extend beyond homework as he develops friendships and shows positive reinforcement they often don’t get at home. The kids know he’s a pastor, but Weber knows his limitations.

“I don’t go in hoping that today somebody’s going to give their life to Jesus,” Weber says. “I can’t have those conversations.”

The school staff needs God’s love, too, Sheley notes. Weber and other church volunteers also have helped at a state basketball championship by cooking barbecue ribs for referees, in addition to supporting other schools’ activities. They also helped mulch the landscaping around the school and gave a teacher appreciation breakfast.

Another youth pastor learned from a principal in Albany that his school had 150 homeless students. The pastor, in turn, shared the need with the church where he served and with others. Today the congregations help fill these students’ backpacks with food for each weekend. Another youth pastor helped coach a basketball team.

“I tell pastors to imagine 10 people from their churches showing up for every softball game,” Sheley says. “We’re here to support every player. We believe in the school, in the team, and believing God will open up opportunities to have God conversations.”

Deann Alford

Deann Alford is a journalist and author. She attends Glad Tidings of Austin, an Assemblies of God congregation in the Texas capital.