Why Children Should Be Your Church’s #1 Priority


George Barna

Regal, 2003, 140 pp.   ISBN 0-8307-3293-4


Barna’s research is often discouraging, but I am encouraged by his personal commitment to Christ and his high standards for godliness.  See, for example, his personal and poignant explanation to his daughter of how she can be sure he loves her (p. 135-36).  This book is a powerful apologetic for the crucial importance of effective children’s ministries.  It focuses on the 31 million children aged 5 to 12, “the years that lifelong habits, values, beliefs and attitudes are formed.” (18)


“Our children will define the future, which makes them our most significant and enduring legacy.  ...but also one of our greatest personal responsibilities.”  (18)


Major challenges for kids: overweight; sexual activity; substance abuse; violence; adequate medical attention (for the 1 out of 8 who have no health insurance); emotional effects of cohabitation, divorce, unmarried parents, and working mothers; lack of sufficient meaningful time with parents; and intake of mass media. (20-23)


“The majority of America’s kids are ... constantly seduced and tantalized by messages and imagery that blur or overstep the boundaries of decency.”  (26)


“Our nation’s children will struggle to maintain a healthy balance in life.  Constantly exposed to evil, they will win the battle most of the time but never escape the sense of jeopardy.  They will seek to live a normal life but fall prey to the constantly deteriorating definitions of normality.”  “The gifts of childhood that have become or are rapidly becoming extinct include innocence, civility, patience, joy and trust.” (26)


“Many of the choices and outcomes in children’s lives relate to...the moral and spiritual dimension.”  “A biblical understanding of ‘the good life’ experience, obey and serve God and other people.  The existence of difficulties, failures and even persecution are not so much indicators of failure as they are events that build character and test our resolve to know, love and serve God.” (27)


“The route to significance and success, therefore, demands that we develop the moral and spiritual foundations that permit us to lead holy and servantlike lifestyles.” (27)


“The most significant aspect of every person’s life is his or her spiritual health.” (28)


“We can strive to give our youngsters all the advantages the world has to offer, ... but unless their spiritual life is prioritized and nurtured, they will miss out on much of the meaning, purpose and joy of life.” (29)


“Every choice we make is ultimately a spiritual decision.”  (30) “Because everything is ultimately a spiritual and moral issue, the more intentional and clear minded we are regarding their spiritual development, the better off they will be for the duration of their lives.”  (32)


Research statistics: (33)

93% consider themselves to be Christian by age 13.

34% (est.) are ‘born again’ by age 13.

But only 4% of 13 year-olds have a worldview, or belief system, aligned with biblical teachings, that serves as the foundation for their decision making. (37)


“If people do not embrace Jesus Christ as their Savior before they reach their teenage years, the chance of their doing so at all is slim.” (34)


Young people are more likely to base their decisions on feelings (37%) or other people’s expectations (26%) than on the Bible (8%).  But many young people also embrace theological distortions as truth. (37)


There is an astounding level of consistency between the religious beliefs of adults and children.  Whatever beliefs one holds in childhood are not likely to change as the individual ages. (37)


“A deep and robust spiritual life demands intentional and strategic spiritual nurturing during the early childhood and adolescent years.” (41)


“If you want to have a lasting influence upon the world, you must invest in people’s lives; and if you want to maximize that investment, then you must invest in those people while they are young.” (42)


“Can we afford to let the moral and spiritual dimension of our future leaders be shaped by default?”  “The moral foundations of children are generally determined by the time the individual reaches age nine.” (47)


Most adults received “ministry leftovers” as children, and “they became exactly what we made them: well-intentioned, inadequately nurtured, minimally equipped secular people who dabble in religious thought and activity.” (48)


“We must pour a larger percentage of our vast resources into people rather than programs and buildings.” (49)


“I am now convinced that the greatest hope for the local church lies in raising godly children.”  “Further, we have discovered that peer evangelism among young children—one kid leading another kid to the foot of the Cross for a life-changing encounter with Jesus—is one of the most prolific and effective means of evangelism in the nation.” (49)


“The battlefront is found in the minds, hearts and souls of our children.” (50)


“In American society today, it appears that the most dominant agents of influence are contemporary music, movies, television, the Internet, publications, laws and public policies, and parents.  The second tier of influence agents includes peers, schools, radio, mentors, colleges and universities and siblings.  The lower tier of influence encompasses churches and faith communities, adult education, counseling and therapy experiences, and extended family.”  “The older a child gets, the more distracted and vulnerable he or she becomes to nonfamily influences.” (58) 


“Our challenge is to enable them to develop a biblical worldview, which is a means of interpreting and responding to reality that is consistent with God’s ways as described for us in the Bible.” (60)


Kids need help with

1.     “Purpose – identifying their purpose in life

2.     Perspective – clarifying their core life perspectives

3.     Provision – providing basic conditions and benefits they need to grow in a healthy manner

4.     Performance – describing the performance of specific activities that enable them to lead productive and meaningful lives.” (61)


A worldview is a “life lens [that] enables them to quickly size up a situation and respond in ways that are consistent with what they believe is appropriate.”  “They are prone to behavior that is consistent with their beliefs, and their beliefs are the result of their worldview.” (67)


Foundations for a biblical worldview include the Bible as source of wisdom, knowledge of its teachings, understanding its organizing principles, and a burning desire to obey God.  (68-69)


Help young people process these seven significant questions:

1.     “Does God exist?

2.     What is the character and nature of God?

3.     How and why was the world created?

4.     What is the nature and purpose of humanity?

5.     What happens after we die on Earth?

6.     What spiritual authorities exist?

7.     What is truth?”


The six pillars of Christian formation: worship, evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, service and community.  [Note that these are the same as the 5 purposes of the Purpose-Driven Church with the addition of stewardship.] (72-74)


“...the Church exists to support us in our efforts to raise our children....  We cannot legitimately pawn off our kids on a church and expect it to do the job we as parents have been given by God.  However, we can partner with the church to compensate for our own areas of developmental weakness or inability....” (75)


Fewer than 10% of parents who regularly attend church with their kids read the Bible together or pray together in a typical week. And adults tend to revert to what was modeled for them. (78) 


“God’s plan is for families to lead in the provision of spiritual development for their children.” (82)


Some methods of instruction include behavioral modeling (most powerful), formal instruction, reading, creative applications, personal experiences, discipline, and combinations of the above.  (94-88)


“The content of their needs relates to developing a biblical worldview, knowing themselves and God well enough to discern their mission and vision, achieving genuine security in their relationship with God..., attaining a sense of empowerment to carry out His will regardless of the consequences, developing the supportive relationships that produce both encouragement and accountability and being competent in living out the six pillars of a truly spiritual life (worship, evangelism, discipleship, stewardship, service, and spiritual community).” (93)


“Spiritual development is not so much about what your children know but who they are.” (93)


Churches usually do not measure or track their nurturing outcomes.


Churches that help to produce spiritually mature children are distinguished by the following:

·        They clarify what they stand for and what they attempt to produce

·        They deliberately assist parents in the process

·        They integrate children’s ministry throughout staff and programs in a continual process

·        They recognize and plan for a lifelong maturation process

·        They begin early, by age four or five.

·        They have specific indicators of success. 

·        They make a major prayer investment.

·        They have a chief advocate in the senior pastor.

·        Their children’s leaders are ongoing and eager learners.

·        They set specific goals informed by development theory.

·        They communicate in ways that relate.

·        They have a good adult-child ratio.

·        They balance small group and large group activities.

·        They build genuine relationships with children.

·        They identify core principles to communicate and return to them in greater depth each year. (see examples, pp. 108-9)

·        They insist on the regular participation of parents.

·        They help children understand the principles and application as well as the Bible stories.

·        They get every child personally involved in some form of ministry, actively serving others.

·        They strategically recruit and train workers.

·        The laity leads the ministry and the staff support them.

·        The ministry is lead by a team.

·        The training is minimal but high quality and provided by experts.

·        The children are fully protected.

·        The workers are intentionally made to fee valued.  (96-117)


Many children think they are educated because they know the Bible stories but they are “clueless regarding the fundamental principles and lessons to be drawn from those narratives.” (110)


Three critical factors for effectiveness: leadership, focus on the information, experiences, skills and encouragement required to steadfastly develop and live in concert with a biblical worldview, and perseverance.  (119-20)


“At its root, effective ministry to children—by parents or church-related youth workers—demands substantial energy, time and interaction.  There is no substitute for the personal touch.” (129)


Three important Scripture passages that provide a guide to personal holiness: the Ten Commandments (Ex 20), the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7), and the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5).  (129)


Means to evaluate outcomes:  (130)

·        Formal evaluation tools – tests, essays, assignments, etc.

·        Self-report evaluation tools – surveys, inventories and profiles

·        Conversation and dialogue – language used, reasoning skills, foundational worldview expressed and interactive engagement

·        Observable behavior or perspectives – attendance, volunteerism, invitations, donations, professed beliefs, memorized beliefs, physical condition and boyd language

·        Inference from choices—character of friends, media preference, spending habits, social activism, attire and appearance


For more information on a biblical worldview and the development process, see George Barna, Think Like Jesus (Nashville, TN: Integrity Publishers, 2003)