To read the first part of this post click here.
In part one, I tried to give reasons why the question, “Are there problems with today’s gospel?,” is a valid question. Research is regularly published that suggest major problems in the evangelistic efforts of gospel-believing churches. Before I suggest my opinion on solutions to this terrible dilemma, I want to share a few more factors that may be contributing to the problem.
At the 2007 Florida Baptist Evangelism Conference, Ed Young Sr., pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, shared his “secrets of Biblical insight” on how to reach kids that he believes “will radically change your church.” Young pastors a church that hosts 45,000 people every weekend on five campuses. He said he began building his congregation “by focusing on evangelizing children and teens.”
Acknowledging that two-thirds of all converts make decisions before the age of 18, Young plead for churches to adopt his strategy for reaching children, insisting it was necessary to reach Florida for Christ. His strategy is to focus on the needs of children, believing that “parents will come to a place where their children are loved and welcomed.” For thirty years, Young has sought to attract children in order to reach parents and grow the church.
For many years, churches have adopted evangelism strategies much like this. It is not uncommon for churches to invest their resources in an attempt to reach the children of unchurched families in hopes of reaching their parents. Is this is wise methodology? Polly House of Baptist Press reported,
“Of all the studies recently published, the most telling related to the fathers role in discipleship is this: according to a report published by The Baptist Press if a child is the first person in the household to become a Christian, there is a 3.5% probability everyone in the household will follow. If the mother is first, there is a 17% chance everyone else in the household will submit to Christ. Here’s the clincher: If the father professes Christ first, there is a 93% probability that everyone else in the house will heed the Gospel call.”
These statistics do not suggest we should fore-go quality children’s programs in churches that teach children the gospel. Nor does this suggest that children cannot make genuine life-changing decisions to follow Christ. However, there is enough evidence to question our effectiveness in reaching children with the gospel. If “the one who endures to the end…will be saved” (Mark 13:13), we cannot settle for our children simply repeating a “sinner’s prayer” and being baptized, only to have 70 – 90 percent of them leave the church as adults and never return.
In addition, the evidence calls into question the effectiveness of reaching parents with the gospel by attracting their children. A large number of unchurched parents of these children are not being converted, and the children reached by the church will most likely leave the church permanently upon graduating high school. Is it wise to continue doing the same thing, while expecting different results?
Why is there a large emphasis on children making faith decisions today? Does the New Testament record an overwhelming number of children converts? I honestly cannot think of one, besides maybe Timothy. I do not see the strategy of churches “targeting” children in the New Testament. I see Scripture advocating children being permitted to come to Christ, and for parents to bring their children up to know Christ. But why are some so insistent that the success of churches in evangelizing their territories are dependent on our child evangelism efforts?
One way of addressing the declining evidence for biblical regeneration in churches is to address the absence of evangelism and discipleship in the home. Many Christian parents elevate their God-given roles to provide for their families over their God-given function to lead their home in discipleship and evangelism. Could it be possible for God to win and grow deeper followers of Christ if families were engaging the Word of God together at home? This is not only possible, it is biblical.
After Moses gave the Ten Commandments to Israel in Deuteronomy 5, he exhorted the families of Israel,
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
The practice of parents diligently teaching God’s Word to their children is foundational to Christianity. This is what happens when we love God entirely. Twenty-seven books and epistles were given to the church in the New Testament as a guide for how to live following Christ. Plenty of opportunity was provided for God to give the church a new methodology to lead our children to follow Christ. Not once does the Scripture suggest using a methodology of attracting children to the church as a way to win the parents. However, Paul does repeat the instruction of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament as our model for training our children to follow Christ (Ephesians 6:1-4).
A God-given function of families is to worship God as families in the home. This is biblical! Worshiping God daily in the home as a family is also possible. Donald Whitney, professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary explains,
“Having your family in a good, Bible-teaching local church is crucial to Christian parenting. But this is not enough for conveying to your children all you want to teach them about God and your beliefs. Moreover, it is unlikely that exposure to the church once or twice a week will impress your children enough with the greatness and glory of God that they will want to pursue Him once they leave home. That is why family worship is so important. But even more importantly, God deserves to be worshipped daily in our homes by our families.”
I guess this is why I remain so concerned. While the Bible has much to say to parents about evangelizing children, and little to say about church evangelism strategies targeting children, it appears pastors are putting their emphases in the wrong place. I believe we need revival in the Christian home, not necessary in our children programs at church. The church simply needs to embrace God’s high emphasis on His “personal” and “parental” model of evangelism and discipleship in the home highlighted throughout Scripture (Deut. 6:4-7; Eph. 6:4).
The church should try to minister to children, as well as all other ages. And churches should want their ministries to attract people, as opposed to turning people away. However, the church is about more than just numerical increases. Christian parents need to lead their families to worship God because God has commanded this, and He is glorified through this practice. Visible church growth, or the lack thereof, should not cause this practice to be abandoned or replaced for a methodology that is perceived to be more effective.
Christian parents should long to see their children live and glorify God. The evidence indicates, however, there are many reasons why the church needs revival in the area of parenting. The research given suggests, not only is biblical regeneration likely the most critical issue facing the church today, one of the greatest symptoms of this problem is found in our evangelism practices toward children.
According to George Barna, in ten years church attendance will be half the size it is today if current trends in the belief systems and practices of the younger generation continue. The church must urgently prepare and exhort parents to lead their children daily in worship at home.
In Part Three, I will conclude with some thoughts on why our greatest problem may be with what we believe about, and how we communicated, the gospel.
 Urtel, Laura. Florida Baptist Convention News and Features: 2007 Evangelism Conference to Help with the Struggles of the Modern Church. January 26, 2007. http://www.flbaptist.org/news/fbc_news_2007_Econf.htm (accessed November 1, 2008).
 Denman, Barbara; Urtel, Lauren. Florida Baptist Convention News and Features: Second Baptist Houston Staff Call Florida Baptists To Practical Advice. March 9, 2007. http://www.flbaptist.org/news/fbc_news_young_Econf07.htm (accessed November 1, 2008).
 Whitney, Donald S., Family Worship: In the Bible, in History, and in Your Home. Shepherdsville, KY: The Center for Biblical Spirituality, 2005.
 Barna, George, Revolution. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005., p. 48-49