Our church has been advocating church planting and partnering with church planters throughout nation and Canada. Some of our planting partners are in urban cores, others in college towns and still others in the suburbs.
Each church is unique and each planter/pastor is seeking God's lead in how the church will honor Him and reach the people in their respective communities.
Some of these churches are planting in community centers. Others borrow space from local businesses or even other churches. Still others are renting out public school facilities on the weekends.
There is a new church beginning soon in our county. I have met with the planter and his wife and even participated in his assessment through our network. We seek to help them in any way we can to engage the community where they are planting.
This new church will begin with a "kick off" service on February 8. They have secured a cafeteria/auditorium in the local elementary school and have already sought to truly bless and encourage the teachers and administrators in the school.
Recently, they posted on Facebook about their kick off service and had their first taste of push back from the community (or at least one person in the community.)
The argument is not new. It's been used before.
How is it OK to have a church that operates out of a state and federally funded elementary school? Is this not in conflict with the separation of church and state? And then to have the audacity to advertise to the local community of taxpayers...
Whenever a church, especially in our nation and in our community, rents a public school facility for meeting, there are those who seek to stop them from doing so on the grounds of "separation of church and state." Instances in Brooklyn over the past months have pushed this to the forefront once again, but as has been stated, even by the organizations that pride themselves on being anti-church (under the guise of civil liberties) have admitted these churches are not breaking any laws by meeting in schools.
Here's a brief statement regarding these issues from the Freedom From Religion organization's website:
The Freedom From Religion Foundation often receives queries from shocked members of the public who receive flyers at their home inviting them to attend “church” at their local public school. Or citizens notice prominent signs at public school entrances on Sundays advertising church meetings. “Public schools can’t host church meetings, can they?” we are asked.
Unfortunately, two decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court provide for the use of public school buildings by churches, religious and political groups on a viewpoint-neutral basis, if the public school districts are already renting their facilities after hours to other community groups. The subsidy involved in use of public schools by religious organizations, however, continues to create concern, confusion, and litigation. The law on the limits of church use is not completely settled. While schools are not permitted to discriminate against religious groups because they are religious, schools can create regulations that impact church use of school buildings (see Bronx Household of Faith v. Board of Educ. of City of New York). One appellate court, the 2nd Circuit, ruled in 2011 that a school board’s prohibition of hosting a particular type of activity, religious worship services, was constitutional.
Since public school districts often have the least expensive rental rates available in a community, rental to churches often involves what many of us consider taxpayer subsidy of congregations. Start-up churches often take advantage of low school rental to establish themselves. They obtain a prominent site for a new church, collect church donations on public property, and use their savings to eventually buy their own tax-free buildings. No wonder many taxpayers are concerned! (Full text here.)
I disagree wholeheartedly with this organization's motives and purpose. Yet, even in their concerted effort to shut down churches meeting in such venues, most often through threats of litigation and even verbal bullying, the facts of the matter, even as stated on their own site, is that churches have the legal rights to meet in public school buildings.
When I saw the response on my friend's announcement post, I messaged him. He admitted feeling some shock and wondered what should be done. Should he seek legal counsel? Should he respond? What's the best?
I counseled him as best I could and reassured him that these battles are not new and the fact they're showing up for him now can be viewed as affirmation that the church God's planting through him is needed at this time and in this area. The Enemy doesn't like this new plant already and the battle lines are being drawn. I encouraged him to press on, seek God's face continually and be strategic in his blessing strategy and serving plans for the school and community.
Christ will be proclaimed in this church. God will be honored (He already has been) and the real battle will be won, resulting in life change for many.
This pastor said to me "It's really made this whole process leading up to Launch a more 'real' thing - that it's not just the attractional side, but the spiritual side as well. We haven't forgotten that, but we have been focusing on decor, and music, and kids and other necessary things and a simple attack is helpful in remembering that our goal is to show God's grace to all people, not provide a comfy thing to do on Sundays."
It's getting real now.
(And it's going to be worth it.)