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Survey notes heightened challenge of reaching children for Christ

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“Churches that aren’t reaching out to children are missing the mark,” a church growth and evangelism expert told participants in the National Preschool and Children’s Convention, Oct. 16-19 at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., listed seven characteristics shared by churches that are reaching children.

The shared traits were discovered through a survey conducted by the Billy Graham school focusing on the “Bridger” generation, those born between 1977 and 1994, Rainer said.

The survey showed, first of all, that churches reaching children are intentional in targeting young people through evangelistic activities.

In a random telephone survey, Rainer said researchers talked to four generations: Builders (born before 1946), Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Busters (born from 1965 to 1976) and Bridgers (1977-1994). For survey purposes, only those Bridgers 17 years old and older were questioned.

“We asked people, first of all, if we could ask them a question about religion,” Rainer recounted. “If they said OK to that, we asked them, ‘If you were to die tonight, do you think you would go to heaven?’ Then, if they answered yes, we asked, ‘Why do you think you would go to heaven?'”

Out of the 1,300 people interviewed, Rainer noted alarm at the low percentage of people in each group who responded that they considered themselves Christians based on having accepted Christ as personal Savior.

Of the Builder generation, 65 percent were Christians; Boomer generation, 35 percent; Buster generation, 15 percent; and Bridger generation, only 4 percent.

“Of these people, 75 percent of them became Christians before the age of 14,” Rainer said.

“If we really look at the data and are objective, we will look at our preschoolers and children and become intentionally evangelistic,” he added. “If you don’t have a plan to reach these children, you’ve blown it.”

Lois Fisher, a preschool resource person for the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio and a preschool, children and youth worker at Miami Shores Baptist Church in Dayton, said she was surprised at the drop in the percentage of people from one generation to the next who are Christians.

“That tells me we’ve got to start praying more,” she said. “I’m afraid our churches have been failing these children and teenagers. We’ve got to do better. They need us.”

The six other shared traits included:

— Churches that reach children understand the pervasiveness of the media.

“In kids under the age of 12, studies indicate they spend 22 hours a week in front of the television, 10 hours a week listening to the radio, 10 hours a week on the Internet, nine hours a week listening to recorded music like CDs and four hours a week watching movies and rented videos,” Rainer said.

“This says what we do in our churches cannot be of lousy quality because they won’t pay attention,” Rainer said. However, he added, “The kids said, ‘We don’t expect you to be as good as the current media.'”

— Churches that reach children are lovingly uncompromising in their beliefs.

“The young people know if the adults are sincere in their beliefs,” Rainer said. “They are attracted to churches that believe in absolutes. While they struggle with exclusivism, they still want to be certain. I’m concerned that in our desire to reach this generation, we will compromise.”

— Of the churches that are reaching children, 22 percent are using senior adults to reach them.

“For many churches now, senior adult ministry means ministry by senior adults, not ministry to senior adults,” Rainer said.

“So many of these young people are starving for adult attention. Seniors have time to give it,” he said.

— Churches that reach children have discovered the power of corporate prayer.

“I rarely see a church that is making an impact [on the lives of children] that isn’t involved in corporate, deliberate prayer,” Rainer said.

— Churches that reach children have discovered the means to strengthen the entire family.

Rainer quoted a survey showing the top fear of young people is the concern that something bad will happen to their family.

“This tells us,” Rainer said, “the health of the family is really on these kids’ minds.”

— Churches that reach children show unconditional love with boundaries.

“The young people said that they want to be a part of something that expects something of them, that has high expectations of them,” Rainer said.

Rainer, a former pastor, said, “If I had anything I’d do over if I were still a pastor, I would focus on Sunday school more and I would focus on children and preschoolers more.”

More than 750 leaders attended the convention sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: THOM RAINER.

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