The clubs, a ministry of the Child Evangelism Fellowship, seek to introduce students to the teachings of the Bible.
“To be honest, we’re trying to bring the good news of the gospel to children,” said Arthur Burns, chairman of CEF’s Cobb County board. “Most people who know who Jesus is come to know him before they are 14 years old. If the message is not received by that point, the percentages go off the wall, where there is very little chance they will accept Christ as their savior.”
Good News Clubs are now in 15 area elementary schools, with seven of them in Cobb. Clubs are currently at Sanders Elementary School in Austell, Belmont Hills and Brown elementaries in Smyrna, Hollydale and Still elementaries in west Cobb and Brumby Elementary in east Cobb in the Cobb School District. In Marietta City Schools, Lockheed Elementary has a club.
Burns said the clubs have 1,024 kids in the area, with the majority in Cobb County. He said principals tell him of kids who change behavior because of the club.
“One of the stories that broke my heart was a 10-year-old girl who accepted Christ, who had never heard of Jesus in her home,” he said.
Rhonda Bailey, director of CEF Cobb, said that, for some children, this is the only church they get.
“I’ve had a grandmother come up before and say, ‘I don’t know what all you all are teaching in the club, but Josh is a different boy at home,’ ” she said.
The clubs use volunteers from local churches to teach the students.
While the Good News Clubs meet weekly at Cobb campuses, the relationship with the Cobb School District hasn’t always been as strong.
In January 2009, the Child Evangelism Fellowship filed a federal lawsuit against the Cobb Board of Education and then-Superintendent Fred Sanderson, claiming that the district’s policy on after-hours use of its buildings was unconstitutional. After using classrooms at Sanders Elementary School for the Good News Club free of charge since 2006, the district attempted to require it to pay a fee of $40 an hour for a minimum of three hours when CEF tried to expand the clubs to Kennesaw Elementary School in 2008, a fee that groups like the Boy Scouts didn’t have to pay. The district also wanted to force the club to meet after 5:45 p.m. during the week.
The school board also changed its policy in 2008 to force the school to pay to meet at Sanders. CEF’s lawsuit said this forced the club off campus, causing its enrollment to drop by 40 percent.
Weeks after CEF filed its lawsuit, which cited the 2001 US Supreme Court Good News Clubs v. Milford Central School decision, the school board voted to change its rule, allowing the Good News Clubs to meet for free after school in its buildings.
Bailey said the clubs now have a good relationship with the schools.
“I don’t know if it was a problem or a misunderstanding, but it’s fine now,” she said.
Sanders Elementary, the first school in the county to have a Good News Club, remains the largest, with over 103 students taking part, said Dawn Turlington, a cafeteria worker at the school, who volunteers with Good News. Her grandson, Michael Cano, now in third grade, has been in the club since kindergarten, while his brother, kindergartner Nathan Cano, is starting the club this year.
“To see the kids come up to us and know they have sinned and they want to repent — it’s great,” she said.
Bailey said the club is always seeking new volunteers and churches to bring its programs to more schools.
“It’s done by churches, and sometimes it’s done by moms and people who want to make a difference in the community,” she said.
For more information on Good News Clubs, call Burns at (770) 335-1401.