Open Enrollment in Christian Schools: Three Great Reasons

Why have we opened the doors of enrollment at Kleinburg Christian Academy? Is it because we, like many other small Christian schools, are faced with declining enrollment and are grasping for survival at all costs? No, not at all; our doors are opened to the interested public (Christian or non-Christian) because of our understanding/interpretation of the calling of scripture. It is genuine and it is intentional. It’s part of our mission and vision. Let me explain our rationale from a biblical point of view.

The Three “Greats”

As we reflect biblically upon the reason for our existence on planet earth, scripture points us in three compelling directions. We believe that God is calling us as individuals and as a Christian organization to embrace and live out the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the “great” cultural or creation mandate.

First, the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind … and … love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt. 22:37–39). This directs us to a right relationship with God and with other people. Our love of God overflows to others. Our school recognizes the need to reflect this truth by encouraging and nurturing those who are growing up in the church (and those who are growing up in the Christian school) to know God personally and to serve him wholeheartedly.

Second, the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples … teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20a). This is our call to evangelize, to witness, to share God’s love with others with the intent of growing God’s kingdom numerically and in quality of service. Our school seeks to reflect this command by wooing children to the King and nurturing them to share this love with others.

Third, the “great” cultural or creation mandate (emphasis mine): “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). If you unpack the Hebrew word for “subdue,” it gives us a clear picture of our call to change the world for Christ: to embrace the world and all that is in it, to use it, to unfold it, mold it, fashion it, develop and re-develop it, create and re-create it, and to care for and protect it. In other words, this is our call to engage our culture with our time, resources, gifts, and talents in order to bring Christ’s light to the dark areas of this world. We are called to partner with God in restoring this world to its original intent, until Christ returns. It is Christ who will complete this restoration. Our school also needs to reflect this call to be busy in the work of restoration. It is our goal and challenge to embrace all three “great” mandates equally.

Who’s Afraid of Open Enrollment?

So why are we sometimes so afraid of open enrollment? There was a time when many of us were, and perhaps still are, troubled by the movement of Christianity to the sidelines in the public school system. It seems that sometimes our culture tolerates all religions except Christianity. So how, then, can Christians be part of God’s redeeming and restoring work in public education if that system is not interested in God? For that reason, we have started an independent Christian school that offers education to everyone in the public, in a Christ-centred environment without apology or compromise. In fact, in doing this, we are adding more value to the historically compartmentalized religious public system; that is, a school open to the public, with the Christian faith integrated into all aspects of learning.

Think about this for a moment. Why miss out on an opportunity and refuse enrollment to a non-Christian family, who values our educational standards and desires to have their child educated in our school? Would we be afraid of the perceived negative influence they may have on our children and on our school? Could we see their enrollment as an opportunity to influence others for God’s kingdom? Assuming this child begins in junior kindergarten and stays until grade 8, that would be ten years of opportunity for us as a school community to share God’s love with this family. Of course we hope, trust, and pray that, by the work of the Holy Spirit, one day they would also embrace Christ as the Lord of their lives. Until then, we welcome them with love and respect as we would any other student. In his time, God will move hearts and lives to his kingdom, whether they are growing up in the church, in our school, or both.

The Variety of Families Welcome in Christian Schooling

Before I go any further, it is important to note that though Kleinburg Christian Academy is open to all, it is not a school for all. All families at our school must understand and sign our statement of faith, either as a personal declaration of their faith or as an agreement that their children will be receiving an education that integrates and supports the Christian faith, with no exceptions, exemptions, or compromise. If a family is not comfortable with this, either at the point of enrollment or later, then our school is deemed not a good fit for their children and they will be encouraged to seek enrollment elsewhere.

This policy and procedure protects the school’s mission, vision, and climate. At Kleinburg Christian Academy, it is acceptable for a family to be complacent or neutral about the Christian faith, but it not acceptable for a family to be antagonistic toward it. In practice, families who are antagonistic toward Christianity would not likely want their children educated in a Christian school. I do, on occasion, get visiting families who say things like, “this place sounds very religious,” or, “how religious are you?” Most of these families, if uncomfortable with the “religious component,” quite quickly and naturally determine that the “educational shoe” does not fit well and voluntarily take us off of their list of educational possibilities for their children.

There is another group of parents however, who might be described as non-practicing Christians. These parents may have has childhood experiences with Christianity and might genuinely desire a spiritual component to their child’s education, though perhaps somewhat different than what they experienced when they were young. Let me give you an example.

One lady visited me recently looking to enroll her child in our school. When I spoke to her about what we mean by Christ-centered education, she had a lot of questions. Though she desired a spiritual component to her child’s education, she wanted to be sure that it would be a contemporary and meaningful expression of Christianity. Though she didn’t really know what she was looking for, it was clear what she was not looking for. She continued to explain that she grew up in a mainline church and was bored every time she went. The rules, rituals and routines she experienced seemed mechanical and meaningless. As I explained further, it became clear to me that she did not have the experience of faith that I did, but she was definitely open to my expressions of the importance of faith at Kleinburg Christian Academy. She remained curious.

Is there room for such a family in our school? Definitely! Admittedly, this family may be primarily looking for academic excellence, like many others, (Christians included, I might add), but she appeared very open and receptive to Christ-centered education.

There are many other people who have had negative experiences in the church, either as a child or an adult, and they may no longer attend. For some reason, however, they remain open to Christian education. These types of families are also welcome in our school. Their partnership with us in education could potentially provide a new, refreshing, and relevant experience that might bring about a renewal of faith in their lives.

Welcomed into the Fold

Consider one more thing: If the church is doing a great job of witnessing to its community, that church will attract people we might call “spiritual seekers.” Does the church send them away until they are Christians? Of course not, they are warmly welcomed into the fold. These same people may be knocking on the doors of our Christian schools, perhaps because their friends and acquaintances in the church are supporters of Christian education. They may have been influenced positively by the great things that are occurring in the school and how the lives of children are being enriched for God’s kingdom.

It is important to note that there are also many other seekers of Christianity in our communities that wouldn’t dare knock on the doors of the church, but may be beginning with knocking on the doors of Christian schools.

Explaining Our “Educational Shoe”

As we consider our admissions policies, we need to also consider the strategies by which we “market” our schools. We need explain to the public what exactly we do as Christian schools and then do a good job in selling the “educational shoe” to those for whom the shoe fits and make it clear to those for whom the shoe does not fit not to buy it. Now is the ideal time to process and plan for these potential challenges.

In conclusion, I recognize that the topic of open or closed enrollment has been getting a lot of attention in the last decade. Many Christian schools, whose enrollment was once predominately from a single denomination, have opened their doors to other Christian denominations and now some are thinking of opening their doors still further. I hope that the movement in this area is not for financial reasons in order to survive (although it could be helpful), but is more strategically based on mission and vision.

Do you have room for “seekers” in your school? Can the school be a place of partnership with the church in evangelism and acts of service? Consider the three great mandates from our great triune God as you consider this very important question.