Christian education and Christian schools hold a special place in my heart. I attended Christian school, my dad taught (and still teaches) at Christian schools, I went to a Christian college, and I myself taught at a Christian school.
I am a strong believer in Christian education and the importance of Christian schools.
But when I look around, I see so many Christian schools that are struggling. Enrollment is down, morale is iffy, and administrators are wondering if it’s really possible to have a thriving Christian school anymore.
Let me tell you, it’s not only possible, but it’s more important now than ever.
It’s easy to throw out excuses: “It’s a tough economy.” “There’s just not as many Christian families as there used to be.” “Homeschooling is getting really popular in our area.” Or “people just don’t want to go to a school that has high standards.”
But more often than not, that’s just not the case.
Are you ready for some tough love?
If you take a real hard look at your school, there are probably some real reasons why your enrollment is down. Reasons that have nothing to do with the economy or the state of the church or anything external. Reasons that have everything to do with the state of your school and some things that you need to improve.
But that’s actually good news – these things are within your control. And if you can take an honest look, identify some areas of weakness, and work hard to correct them, then you just might be amazed at how quickly things turn around.
Because I have to tell you – There are people looking for quality Christian schools. There really are. And when you build a school that is excellent, people will want to send their kids there.
So let’s take a look at some common problems in Christian schools & see if any of them look familiar…
10 Reasons Your Christian School Is Struggling
- Poor leadership. You’ve heard that everything rises and falls on leadership, and that is absolutely true. You need a leader who has the knowledge, skills, and leadership qualities needed to lead a strong Christian school. Leadership is more than having some good ideas or telling everyone what to do. A real leader needs experience, wisdom, and the right attitude. A great leader knows how to listen to those around him and to lead with compassion, integrity, and genuine commitment. The good news? Leadership can be developed. Start with John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.
- A “good-enough” attitude. When you start settling for “good enough” instead of pushing for excellence, things don’t fall apart overnight, but they start a gradual decline. Like the proverbial frog who gets boiled alive as the pot is turned up one degree at a time, the gradual decline is hard to notice and even harder to push back against. Until one day you look back on your school 5, 10, 20 years ago and think “My goodness, what happened!?” Good-enough is just NOT good enough.
- Lack of growth. If you’re not constantly growing and improving, you’re declining. If you’re not intentionally doing something better this year than you did last year, chances are things are gradually getting worse. It’s just the law of entropy. You’ve got to work diligently to improve each year. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s also well worth it.
- Resistance to change. Sometimes teachers or administrators get set in their ways and don’t want to try anything new. And while there’s definitely some wisdom in sticking with time-tested principles that are working well, if you fall too much into the “if it’s don’t broke don’t fix it” camp, you’re going to end up with a school full of just-barely-not-broken-but-the-paint-is-peeling-and-everything-is-starting-to-fall-apart classrooms. (No, not literally….But it’ll be just as obvious to that potential new family who’s visiting your school.) You don’t need to jump head first into every new educational trend, but there are lots of fantastic ideas out there. So be on the lookout for them, embrace creative thinking, and foster an environment of positive change and growth.
- Too-familiar relationships between teachers and students. Sometimes teachers really want their students to like them and end up acting more like a friend than a teacher. This can be especially challenging for younger teachers or if your school is closely tied with your church. But when a teacher is too familiar, their students have a hard time respecting them, and things can go downhill in a hurry. So help your teachers realize that they can and should be their students’ mentor without being their (Read more about how the difference between a friend and a mentor here.)
- A poor school culture. When too many problems (like the ones above) exist for a long period of time, your school develops a poor culture. What that means is that your staff and faculty are used to these problems and see them as normal. And any new faculty members who come in with excitement and new ideas and are quickly overcome by and assimilated into the general poor culture. What’s more, this poor culture drips down to the students who get used to this type of environment as well. This one is not so simple to overcome. It will take time, but you must be intentional. Start by talking with your staff about what you all want the school to be and the real changes that you will need to make in the culture to get there.
- Wrong personnel. Sometimes there are teachers, staff members, or even administrators who simply should not be at your school, but that no one has the guts to fire. Maybe you feel bad for them, maybe you worry they’ll make a fuss, maybe you just keep hoping things will get better, or maybe you’re just not willing to go there. But please listen. Firing has to be on the table. Or at least not renewing someone’s contract. If your school hasn’t fired anyone in the last 10 years, that’s probably not a good thing. So please think long and hard before sending out that next round of contracts. And do everything you can to hire the right people in the first place.
- An us-vs-them mentality. Anytime there is an us-vs-them mentality, everyone loses. Whether it’s teacher vs. student, parent vs. teacher, parent vs. admin, or whatever other combination you can come up with, it is not good. What your school needs is to realize that you are all on the same team & you all have the same goal – to train young people to be well-equipped for life and to serve God with it. Bring every disagreement back to that goal & realize that – at the core – you both want the same thing. Then talk together about how you can find the best solution to get there. (Read this article for more thoughts about how thinking win-win can help end conflict.)
- A focus on rules. Now of course schools need rules. But are rules the focus of your Christianity? When you talk with your students about what following Christ means, does it include a checklist or a relationship? When we spend more time telling our students what they should and shouldn’t do than we do teaching them how to love God, we are not only missing the entire point, we are portraying a Christianity that is empty and completely lacking any power. It’s simply not going to change lives, and it’s going to leave a lot of graduates frustrated, disillusioned, and ready to be done with the whole Christian thing.
- Not relying on the Spirit for wisdom & direction. I’m realizing that too often “praying about something” means that we mention it to God once or twice and then go ahead and do whatever we were planning to do. This is simply not going to cut it. We have to start seeking God’s face and then waiting for an answer. That means we don’t make the decision until we are 100% sure that God is telling us one way or the other. When we wait to hear that still small voice, we will actually do what God wants us to do, not just hope that we did. And that, my friend, is what our Christian schools most desperately need.
These are just a few reasons Christian schools struggle. What other issues should Christian school leaders be on the lookout for?