Most of us who have been involved in children’s ministry for any length of time have heard of the 4/14 window. That is, in the USA, 85% of people who make a decision for Jesus Christ, do so between the ages of 4 and 14.
The reasons for this are obvious. Jesus said that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will not enter it at all (see Mark 10:13-16). Little children are able to accept the truths of God’s Word in a way that their more cynical, “grown-up” counterparts cannot.
Oh, the blessedness of being able to teach a little child about the Word of God, and about our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ!
However, as I have been pondering the 4/14 window recently, I was made aware of a bleak juxtaposition that ought make us rethink how we do children’s ministry:
If 85% of people who make decisions for Jesus Christ do so between the ages of 4 and 14…
If somewhere between 75-88% of children identified as Evangelical Christians abandon their faith by the end of their freshman year in college…
Many…possibly the vast majority…of those “decisions” that were made by children in the 4/14 window, were not decisions at all…
We have a lousy track record as American Christians in discipling our children!
Ask any Sunday School teacher or children’s ministry director how easy it is to get a group of Kindergarteners to raise their hands and pray a prayer to ask “Jesus into their heart”.
Smile a lot…talk about how much Jesus loves them…talk about heaven.
They’ll raise their hands.
But, are they reached?
Why not? Because they do not understand the Gospel.
-They do not understand that God is Holy and Righteous and cannot tolerate sin in His presence.
-They do not understand that they are hopeless sinners, in desperate need of a Savior.
-They do not understand that Jesus Christ, who is God Incarnate, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, lived a perfect, sinless life, died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures.
-They do not know that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, and that it is only by putting their faith and trust in Him exclusively for salvation that they can be rescued from the eternal punishment for their sin.
For too many churches, children’s ministry has become about getting as many children as possible to pray a prayer of “magic words”. Forget whether or not they understand what they just said.
Similar things could be said about churches whose practical, applied theology teaches parents that infant baptism is what saves a child. If they abandon their faith as teenagers, we have a false-peace that, because they were baptized, they are “okay”.
This is born out by the fact that research from the Nehemiah Institute shows that less than 10% of churched teens have a biblical worldview. This does not just apply to so-called “moral” issues, but also to the basic tenets of the Christian faith, and whether or not there is such thing as absolute truth at all.
We must face a harsh reality–when our young people reject biblical Christianity after having made some sort of profession of faith, their “decision for Christ” was no real decision at all.
A Radically Different Approach
Now, before you dismiss me as anti-child evangelism, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.
I am fanatical about child evangelism. This is one of the biggest reasons that I homeschool my children. I want to make sure that I am teaching my children the truths of God’s Word all day, everyday, in every area of our lives. I want to live and breathe Deuteronomy 6 with my children.
My point is that our current approach to child evangelism is not working, and for many young people it is leading to a false-assurance of salvation.
Sunday School is not enough. AWANA is not enough. Youth Group is not enough. Christian Camping is not enough. We must be discipling our children in our homes.
What about spiritual orphans…kids who don’t have Christian parents?
…we should be discipling them in our homes, too. (More about this in a future post).
Many of us believe we must do this, but most of us don’t. Recent research from the Barna Institute shows that, of the few Christian parents who actually talk about their faith with their children in their homes, most devote less than 30 minutes per week to the practice. Ouch.
Contrast this with the 14,000 hours that 96% of kids from Christian homes spend in the public schools, being indoctrinated into secular humanism, and it is no wonder we have a problem on our hands.
The answer to me is obvious. We as Christians must take responsibility for the spiritual formation of our children. We cannot abdicate our responsibility to the Sunday School teacher or Youth Pastor. It’s our job.
Yes, it will mean a radical change in lifestyle for many of us.
Yes, it will mean thinking differently then we ever have before, and questioning assumptions we have made about church and family life, making sure that they line up with Scripture.
Yes, it will cost us time and money.
Yes, some people will think we are crazy.
…we afford what we care about,
…we prioritize what is important to us,
…we sacrifice for what matters,
As for me and my house, the thing we want most for our children is that they become fully-devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and that they dwell in the house of the LORD forever.