Fueled by earnest prayer and the support of believers willing to take time off from work, the New Hampshire Avenue Gospel Chapel (Silver Spring, MD) started a Good News Club (GNC) with 5 children from our Assembly. Our goal was “to go”1 teach the Gospel to children in a neighborhood school. We had 20 children attend our first meeting in 2011.
We soon recognized that the harvest is truly plentiful and we needed more laborers! Within a few weeks we grew to about 40 children. County regulations mandated that we split the group and occupy two classrooms given our high enrollment. Since GNC takes place in a public school we had not only to abide by this and other regulations but also had come to embrace these rules. They are not to be grudgingly complied with but wholeheartedly supported and followed. We were initially nervous about the challenge of splitting into two groups—Pre-K to Grade 2 and Grades 3 to 5—but the split enabled us to better adapt the Bible lessons, stories, songs and questions to fit the intellectual level of the children. Using two classrooms also allowed us to take in more children as news of GNC spread.
Enrollment has grown every year: from 55 children in year 1 to 75 in year 2, 90+ in year 3, 100+ in year 4, and 110+ in year 5.2 Fairland’s student population is about 650 and GNC has about 15% of them. This number of children is more than double the size of our assembly’s Sunday School and AWANA program. In October 2020, our 10th GNC year, due to the pandemic lockdown and school closure, we shall begin for the first time to conduct our GNC on a virtual basis using Zoom. We are encuraged by other virtual GNCs, particularly in Georgia, which have experienced an increase in enrolment, even the participation of kids in China, beyond our borders!
GNC takes place after school, 3:45 pm to 5 pm every Thursday. It is action packed from the start to finish. To attend, a student has to obtain written parental permission. Although this initially appeared to be a bureaucratic hurdle, we have since discovered that this rule forced us to fully disclose upfront what GNC is about: we tell Bible stories, teach kids to memorize Bible verses, sing Christian songs, play games, hear missionary stories and much more. It also enabled us to obtain vital information about the children: their names, addresses, parents’ names and phone numbers and, of course, the parents’ express written consent for their child to attend GNC, and to disclose if their child had any medical concerns. The permission slip further informed us if the child needed a ride to get home and, if so, to provide an acceptance of risks and waiver of liability.3 Far from being an onerous compliance burden, the permission slip has proven to be a tremendous promotional tool and gathering of much useful information.
The GNC curriculum is well thought-out and improved yearly by Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). Our routine is: snack time,4 opening prayer, singing action-oriented choruses, memory verse, Bible story, games, small group session, closing prayer and dismissal. Each segment rapidly follows the other and everything is finished in an hour. In the early GNC years, it took a real effort to keep order. Children often talked regardless of the program, resulting in apparent chaos. We often wondered if anyone was paying attention But the Bible lessons and the gospel message did get through; when we asked questions, many children eagerly volunteered to answer questions—they were listening in spite of appearances. We have since learned techniques from experienced elementary educators to maintain better order. Most importantly, when we asked who would like to receive the Lord Jesus into their hearts as their Savior, many tiny hands go up without hesitation! We have called for a show of faith many times and have been humbled and warmed by the response. At times, we have done the reverse to verify their understanding by asking those who have not trusted the Lord Jesus to raise their hands. Hardly a hand went up.
So how did we get to “go” teach the gospel in an elementary public school? There was a clear judicial path through a numer of Suprene Court decisions. Important cases included: Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches Union Free District 508 U.S. 384 (1993), Rosenberger v. University of Virginia 515 U.S. 819 (1995), and Good News Club v. Milford Central School 533 U.S. 98 (2001) . Although these important decisions received scant media coverage, the Supreme Court rulings allowed GNC to bring the gospel into public schools.
Even with backing from the Supreme Court decisions, we did not take the cooperation of the Fairland Elementary School for granted. We hosted a Staff Appreciation Breakfast and served a home cooked hot meal. This event has worked wonders for our relationship with the school as a whole. Other chapel members assisted our regular GNC volunteers to pull it off. In addition to the meal, we distributed Bibles, CDs, gospel tracts and other Christian literature to all who came to the breakfast. The welcome and warmth for GNC we feel from the facilities’ staff, teachers, and administration, is palpable.
Running such a large Club was not without its operational issues like occasional accidents e.g. a child falling. We responded to these challenges with prayer and scrupulous compliance with school and county safety and health protocols. We have learned that these procedures are helpful in not only pointing to what we need to do when an accident happened, but, showing us how to prevent problems in the first place. We quickly adopted the Montgomery County’s Recognition and Prevention of Child Abuse protocols for all our chapel activities and programs. Montgomery County (at https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/childabuseandneglect/) maintains a web-based training resource and we had our volunteers not only for GNC but for all our chapel ministries and activities take the training.
GNC is a tremendous blessing and encouragement to our assembly, and we pray that many more assemblies will take advantage of this opportunity. We do not have to wait for neighborhood children to come to our Sunday School. We can “go” to them at their school and a lawful path is clearly available. The field of young children is truly whitened unto harvest.5
1. “Go ye, therefore” Matthew 28: 19
2. Since 2017, we have in cooperation with the school restricted the number of children desiring to attend GNC due to the limited number of adult volunteers.
3. Since GNC is after school hours, there is no school bus service. Most of the parents elected to pick up their children after GNC.
4. A healthy snack is provided at the start to tie the children over the afternoon since GNC is after hours.
5. John 4:35. Inquiries about how to start a GNC may be directed to JiJo Anthony or Smitha Antony at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. This article was written with helpful inputs from Smitha.