Enrollment in Missouri Baptist schools growing
By Barbara Shoun
September 6, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY– When Missouri’s school children went back to their classrooms this fall, nearly 1,000 entered schools sponsored by churches of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC).
Although there is no centralized system for tracking MBC schools, the combined lists of two Christian school organizations – Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools (SBACS) and Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) – indicate 12 schools in Missouri are affiliated with MBC churches. In addition, several congregations are currently studying the possibility of starting their own schools. Baptist schools appear to be growing in number as parents seek an education for their children that emphasizes a Christian worldview.
Jim Kerr, administrator of the largest school in the MBC, operated by Tower Grove Baptist Church in St. Louis, says their school’s mission is to offer a Christian-based education process that covers all that students are supposed to be for Christ – spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
“Our philosophy is that all thought is God’s thought,” he said.
Tower Grove was started in 1978 and currently has 350 students enrolled in kindergarten through 12th grade. The commitment to a Christian worldview is reflected in the school’s dedication to Scripture. Every grade level has a Bible class appropriate to its age, and all involve memorization.
David Baker, pastor of Heartland Baptist Church in Belton and a member of the MBC Executive Board, also serves as chancellor of its school. He echoes the Bible-based purpose of Christian schooling.
“Education begins with knowledge of the Scripture. If you’re not Bible educated, you’re not educated,” he said.
Heartland is in its 21st year and has an enrollment of approximately 200 students, including pre-school.
Bob Holman, pastor of Round Grove Baptist Church, Miller, reports 63 students enrolled this year, including pre-schoolers. The school was started in 1998.
“The main thing we’ve been able to do is to offer parents a stable Christian background with a biblical-based chapel every week and a superb education,” Holman said.
The quality education component is interwoven with a Christian worldview approach and administrators say their standards for student achievement are high. MBC schools expect their students to excel. “The curriculum prepares graduating students for their next step, whether it is college or the workplace,” Kerr said.
Sponsoring churches view their schools as a major evangelism tool as well.
“We accept non-Christian kids and win them to Jesus,” Baker said. In Heartland’s 20 years of existence, 1,500 students have received Christ as Savior.
Holman reports that kids have been saved at the Round Grove school every year for the last five years, most of them as a result of the Wednesday chapel services.
Kerr says the school has a mission of evangelism as well as discipleship of those who are Christians. “The majority of our students do not attend church here. All have an opportunity to participate in the church sports leagues, and the church fosters interaction to open doors for those who are not in church,” he says.
Financing Christian schools is always a major concern. John Craig, ACSI’s regional director for the South-Central Region, reports that growth of Christian schools has been somewhat flat over the past four years because of rising tuition costs. However, Southern Baptist schools have continued to grow.
Baker admits that it’s hard to keep a school financially viable.
“If a church takes it on, the church has got to be pretty serious about it,” he said. Baker suggests that other churches should support the schools through providing scholarships or giving their pastor’s children an opportunity to attend.
More than 90 percent of Tower Grove’s operating budget is derived from tuition. At Round Grove, tuition is augmented by two major fund-raisers each year – a meal served on a donation basis and a silent auction.
Physical assistance is usually provided in the form of classroom space, with classrooms doubling as Sunday School rooms. At Round Grove, the church also provides utilities and assists with vehicles for transporting students the 15 miles from town to its rural location.
Some schools are accountable to the governing board of the church and some are operated by an elected school board. Holman notes that “with a good staff and board members, it practically functions by itself.”
Some parents believe they can protect their children from worldly influences by putting them in a Christian school, but Baker notes that Christian schools don’t totally shelter students from everything. What they can offer is a calm atmosphere and safety.
“Bullies are not tolerated,” Baker stressed. “We don’t have violence. We have everything you have in public school but not nearly to the same extent. In the case of teen pregnancy, we might have one every two years whereas in public school they deal with it on a daily basis.”
State law does not require accreditation for Christian schools. However, most belong to professional organizations such as the ACSI and the SBACS and many are accredited.
Ed Gamble, executive director for the SBACS, believes it is crucial that Southern Baptists become serious about education if they hope to win the next generation for Christ. He envisions Southern Baptist schools in every community, with open enrollment, an evangelistic mission, and fully supported by their sponsoring churches and by the families whose children attend school.