I recently spent some time reflecting upon strategic issues related to the church.
As I have done a personal and strategic review, I’ve pondered some very important material. Some is information I’ve had for years, and some is new.
In the early 1990s, I received the simple numeric results from a survey conducted by the Assemblies of God. They asked their ministers and missionaries two simple questions: “At what age did you receive Christ as Saviour?” and “At what age were you aware of God’s call to full-time ministry?”
The results are beyond instructive. Just shy of 80 percent of the respondents received Christ before their 20th birthday. By the time they turned 25, the statistical results for individual age groups within the over-25 group were close to none.
When it came to calling to ministry, the results were similar: 63 percent of those in ministry with the Assemblies of God at the time said they knew God called them to full-time ministry before they were 25 — with the vast majority saying it happened before they were 19.
Now a new and broader survey by the Barna Group tells us 77 percent of Christians made a decision to follow Jesus before the age of 21, with the vast majority making their decision before age 18. This means three out of every four Christians made their decision for Christ before their 21st birthday.
The conclusion from both these surveys is very straightforward — and is, in fact, the title of Barna’s published survey results: ‘Evangelism is Most Effective Among Kids.’
Some general conclusions reached from this research:
- Between the ages of five and 12, lifelong habits, values, beliefs and attitudes are formed.
- Whatever beliefs a person embraces when he or she is young are unlikely to change as the individual ages.
- If a person does not embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour before they reach their teenage years, they most likely never will.
So: what happens later, which makes human beings harder to reach with the gospel?
The truth is that it is mostly the business of life. By the time a person reaches 25, finishing school and the transition into career and marriage take centre stage. The older a person becomes, the harder it is to make big changes in life.
The die is cast, so to speak: win them or lose them. This is the urgent reality for the church of Jesus Christ. Spend the money and use the manpower necessary to educate, win and disciple children and youth — or by default, watch them turn their back on the church as young adults.
It is important to understand that we are referring to the children and youth from outside of our church community.
While we should disciple the young people from our church families and provide a welcoming environment for them, it is absolutely vital that we address the reality beyond our church walls.
The relative cost and effort to win a child or youth to Christ is quite low compared to winning an adult. This speaks strongly to the allocation of church finances and resources. If the greatest and most lasting response is from children and youth, shouldn’t that area receive the greatest focus?
The simple truth is that money and effort expended in reaching children and youth with the gospel is money extremely well spent, yielding huge long-term dividends for the church. It’s a very good investment.
At one time, our churches were known for our education programs — Sunday schools, VBS, youth, Crusaders, summer camps. They reached well beyond the walls of our church and constituted some of our most effective evangelistic efforts.
Certainly the trend continues with many of our churches. Unfortunately, the day when it was the expected standard for a thriving church has apparently passed.