What Prospective Parents Want in a Christian School


This post is a summary of a presentation I gave at a teacher’s conference in the fall of 2017.  The presentation was on what do prospective parents want in a Christian day school.  Some of you are thinking they want what everyone else wants, right?  Well not so fast.  Because this generation is not as grounded in faith as previous generations there is a shift in what they value and desire for their children.  I will give you just a taste of what four factors will determine their educational choices.  This is based on August 2017 Barna Research study on Parents and Christian Schools.  I have included the link if you want to dig deeper into the findings.

  1. Safety

According to Barna Research, “A safe environment is the most essential feature when choosing a school for parents of both current (98% essential) and prospective (94%) Christian school students. Safety can mean anything from a toxin-free building or a padded playground to bullying prevention. However, it can also include ‘cultural safety,’ such as feeling safe to ask questions or express doubt, learning to work through differences or a general sense of belonging and respect. Prospective parents, though more generous toward public (21%) and charter schools (35%), also give private Christian schools (both 42%) a 10 of out 10 for their ability to provide a safe environment.” [1]

You can see how this is important to parents regardless of age.  As we look at the world around us, it is becoming more and more of a dangerous place.  And the places that were off limits in the past, schools, churches, concerts have all come under attack in recent years.

2. Quality Teachers
The definition of what is a quality teacher is changing with this next generation. Quality is defined by the strength of the relationship between parent and teacher. Here is what the research says.

Children experience a wide range of relationships at school, but the core ones are with peers and teachers. Parents want warm teachers who they can reach easily. “Teachers who really care about their students” (98%) is the aspect of schools that Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) parents are most likely to say is essential (tied with safety at 98%), followed closely by “accessible teachers,” which slightly fewer (94%) said was a necessity.  Parents whose children are in private Christian schools tend to rank their experience with the schools very highly. Almost six in 10 (59%) give their current school a 10 of out 10 for “Teachers who really care about their students” and over half (52%) give the same ranking to “accessible teachers.” For prospective parents, almost four in 10 (38%) gave a 10 out of 10 for “Teachers who really care about their students” and about one-third (34%) gave the same rating for “accessible teachers.”[2]

3. Academic Excellence
One of the more surprising revelations from the study are the goals prospective parents want for the academic futures of their children. Barna research points out that:

“Academic excellence is a top priority for parents of both current and prospective Christian school students. Nearly all current Christian school parents (95%) say it is essential. For prospective parents, that number is slightly lower, at 88 percent. Surprisingly, parents do not consider academic excellence more important as their children grow older and closer to the window for college admissions.”

4. Character Development & Spirituality

It is in this sector that the greatest divide begins to become more evident.  According to the Barna Research:

“Current and prospective parents both also give high priority to “intentionally developing children’s character” (current: 94%, prospective: 73%). But in addition, current parents especially desire spiritual development for their children. This reinforces the above findings showing how most current Christian school parents believe that character and spiritual development are among the ultimate purposes of education.

When it comes to spiritual formation specifically, more than eight in 10 (82%) parents of current students believe it is essential when weighing a choice between different schools, but only one-quarter of parents of prospective students (26%) feel the same.”

Where we currently connect character development to faith this next generation appears to separate character from faith.

This reminds me a study of character formation.  In the 1950s a psychologist, Stanton Samenow, and a psychiatrist, Samuel Yochelson, sharing the conventional wisdom that crime is caused by environment, set out to prove their point. They began a 17-year study involving thousands of hours of clinical testing of 250 inmates in the District of Columbia. To their astonishment, they discovered that the cause of crime cannot be traced to environment, poverty, or oppression. Instead, crime is the result of individuals making, as they put it, wrong moral choices.

In their 1977 work The Criminal Personality, they concluded that the answer to crime is a “conversion of the wrong-doer to a more responsible lifestyle.” In 1987, Harvard professors James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnstein came to similar conclusions in their book Crime and Human Nature. They determined that the cause of crime is a lack of proper moral training among young people during the morally formative years, particularly ages one to six. [3]

The challenge Christians schools will need to address is how do you reconnect faith to character development?  We don’t want to just produce good students, we are called as believers to develop disciples.  Character is forged with the transformation of the new life in Christ. The apostle Paul describes how a character is formed.

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

These are interesting times for the church, but Jesus has equipped us just for these times.

Other posts in the studies done to connect the church with Millennials:


[1] https://www.barna.com/research/parents-look-christian-schools/

[2] https://www.barna.com/research/parents-look-christian-schools/

[3] Christianity Today, August 16, 1993, p. 30.

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