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Evangelism of children critical to future of church, leader states

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–If current trends continue, as few as 4 percent of today’s children — the ‘millennial’ generation born since the late 1970s — will accept Christ and be baptized into the church, according to Skip Arnhart, associate for family evangelism for the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The obvious conclusion, he said, is that churches should consider placing a higher priority on a coordinated approach to evangelism among children.
“I am not advocating sharing with every 2 year-old,” Arnhart said. ” My intention is that we need to start from infancy teaching them about Jesus, and to become intentionally evangelistic when they reach the elementary years.” With today’s children, he said, it is more important than ever that evangelism be intentional — particularly with the secular or pluralist influence of media, schools and society as a whole.
Arnhart, speaking during NAMB’s Aug. 1-6 “On Mission ’98” conference at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center, said he is currently developing a manual on evangelism of children designed to help churches set up an effective and evangelistic children’s ministry. The manual, titled, “Building An Evangelistic Children’s Ministry,” grew out of a meeting with a number of leaders in children’s ministry from around the country held this spring.
The emphasis is on a church-wide effort to ensure that every child has an opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel at the appropriate time, Arnhart said.
Arnhart recommends detailed long-term planning to ensure that everything done in children’s ministry is designed to reinforce an overall purpose statement. One component of a purpose statement, for instance, is that “Children will be taught about Jesus.” It might seem obvious, he said, but without proper planning it becomes easy for church to become merely child care.
“If we do not effectively minister to the needs of the children, the world will,” Arnhart said in an early draft for the manual. “Too much of our church time with children is spent playing and ‘baby-sitting.’ We separate the children from the adults and instead of reaching them we play games, color and work puzzles. While we are playing on Sunday the world is stealing them away the other six days of the week.”
Leaders should develop comprehensive goals and strategies toward fulfilling that purpose, he said. When the first-grade Sunday school class is taught the books of the Bible, for instance, the second-grade class should be taught the Ten Commandments or other foundational material.
Scripture memory should be incorporated throughout a child’s life, he said, but in ways that are effective. Many churches, for instance, ask children to memorize a verse each week at home on a reward basis. But he said the results of those efforts are usually only limited to a small group of children — and then only during the initial months of the promotion.
Instead, he suggested asking teachers to help the entire class learn only one verse per month during Sunday school class time. Fewer verses are learned, but you have 100% participation and the verses are more likely to be retained.
When the time for a decision does come, Arnhart emphasized the importance of instilling heart knowledge and not just head knowledge. The age at which children can truly understand salvation through Christ varies with the child, but an approach that relies on the Scripture and plenty of questions for the child to explain their decision is more likely to reveal whether the decision is genuine.
“I can take a tract and share it so that every child that I talk with will pray the sinner’s prayer… but then many of those decisions are not genuine,” he said. “So the key is to take the tools we have and instruct teachers to recognize the child’s age of accountability.”
Children also should be encouraged early on in their Christian life to be actively involved in sharing their faith with others, he said.
“We have planned five different little novelty items — book covers, pens rulers and other things — that they can take and show children how to lead another child to the Lord. You take Christian children, show them how to use these items, bring names back to church leaders and follow-up can be done,” he said.
Arnhart also noted that with careful planning — a purpose statement, goals and a plan for reaching those goals that includes a breakdown of costs — it is easier to correct any funding inequities that might currently exist in a church budget.
“The budget committee is apt to give you more money if you have all this laid out,” he said.
The manual, “Building An Evangelistic Children’s Ministry,” will be available from the North American Mission Board in 1999. NAMB currently offers an evangelistic tract for children titled, “God’s Special Plan,” as well as an accompanying kit of supplementary materials titled, “Sharing God’s Special Plan.”

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  • James Dotson