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Sep
09

Why Value Children’s Ministry

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Few books have impacted my thinking about ministry any more than George Barna’s book titled, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions. I recently pulled this book off the shelf to see if it would still make the same impression, and of course, it did. Check out some of the demographical information cited:

One out of every eight children under age 13 is overweight.
One out of every ten children has had sexual intercourse before their 13th birthday.
One out of every ten eighth graders smoke daily, and one out of five in that grade has tried drugs.
During a typical school year, one out of every fourteen elementary school students is threatened or injured at school with a weapon.
In a given year in America, one million children will miss at least one day of school for fear of physical violence.
One out of every eight children under age 13 has no health insurance.
Approximately 7% of children in America between the ages of 6 and 11 have been diagnosed with ADHD.
As many as 17% of children live at or below the poverty line.
One out of every three children born each year in America is born to an unwed mother.
One out of every four children lives with a single parent.
Three out of every five mothers of infants are in the American labor force.
Children between the ages of 2 and 7 consume nearly 25 hours of mass media/technology per week.
Children between the ages of 8 and 13 consume almost 48 hours of mass media/technology per week.
44% of preteens admit to not having any role models in life. For those who do, only one in three name their father or mother as their role model.

Looking at those numbers brings to mind a couple of thoughts. For one, life is extremely messy. Gone are the days when children were sheltered from “adult” problems and issues. Kids today understand the difficult realities of life and are painfully aware of life’s challenges. Second, it is harder today to be a kid today than it was for most of us yesterday. There are more problems, more complexities, and more readily available temptations. There is less structure, less supervision, and less consistency.

But while those statistics are certainly troubling, they aren’t the ones that give cause for alarm. When the same age groups were surveyed and studied, it was discovered that children under the age of 13 were statistically no different that adults regarding spirituality. In short, Barna Research concluded that by the age of 13, a child’s spiritual worldview is largely set in place.

Let me put that into a context that my generation can understand. When I was young, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (and others, for that matter) recognized the value of investing in the spiritual development of teenagers, citing that the likelihood of a person coming to faith in Christ significantly diminished after a person’s 18th birthday. Churches of all denominations responded to that information by investing their programming dollars and resources in youth programs. Youth ministers were trained and hired and provided the financial resources to perform ministry to junior and senior high students. That was then, this is now. In today’s spiritual economy, 13 is the new 18. Youth ministry is still viable and important in our congregations, but wisdom would indicate that today’s church must invest as much if not more in children’s ministry if we’re going to make a difference in future generations.

I’m turning 50 in four months. Two of my children are in college now, and the third will graduate in 2015. I must confess, however, that I have a greater sense of urgency about children’s ministry than at any time in my (nearly) 30 year career. Children’s ministry must be a priority for our churches. It can’t be just another good thing we do among the host of other good things we do. As the adage goes, “When everything is important, nothing is important.” With passion and intent we must rise to the challenge and see it as the greatest Kingdom opportunity that we have before us.

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