A shout out to Jon Acuff at Stuff Christians Like is in order. I ran across this advertisement for the Good News Glove. A tool for children to use in witnessing to their friends. For those of you who are familiar with the “Wordless book” presentations popularized by Child Evangelism Fellowship you get the general idea. The color “black” represents sin. When it’s translated into a finger–anyone want to guess which finger is sin? You might think twice about presenting the gospel finger by finger. Just saying. I guess this was a good idea once upon a time. BTW: they are still available through Campus Crusade. You can check them out here. Just so you know: they cost a little bit more than they did in 1971 (this ad appeared in Gospel Light’s Teach Magazine, Fall 1971). I think I may need to order some! After all there are millions already in print!
Archives For Evangelism
It’s hard to say that any age group is more important than the next. Spiritual growth builds upon itself–we crawl before we walk; we walk before we run. God does something unique at each age level which makes every age level important. When we miss something at one level we handicap the next. The things we miss along the way are typically the things that become “the hurts, habits and hangups” of adulthood. Maybe a better way of saying it is, “The stage we miss is the most important.”
The reason why I singled-out childhood is because it represents the beginning of the spiritual journey for most people. We know that most people will decide to follow Jesus in childhood (sometime between the ages of 4-14). In fact, it becomes exponentially harder after age 18.
Leading kids to a relationship with Jesus is the number one task of the church and family.
We cannot stop with leading kids to a relationship with Jesus. We must lead them in a continually growing relationship with Jesus that results in a life fully committed to Him and service in the Kingdom of God. Ultimately we want all people to come to a place where they say, “Jesus, what will you have me do?”
Many people get to the place where they say “Jesus, save me!” but few reach the place where they say, “Here I am, send me.”
How do you help people get to a place where they say: “Jesus, what will you have me do?”
We must respect the technique of the medium we use. The arts cannot tell us what to say, but they can tell us how to say it. And we must listen and obey if we want our messages to be successfully delivered. You will remember some of the hideous chromos [See example to the right] that used to pass as religious art in the days of our youth. I sometimes wonder how many people were turned away from religion because they saw as children religion pictured in the form of tasteless, effeminate, sentimental representations of Biblical scenes and of the Divine Master himself. In my own medium of motion pictures it is well known among professionals that propaganda pictures are never successful—either as pictures or as propaganda. For the general audience you cannot preach on film. If you do, you will not have an audience.
Cecil B. DeMille (164th Presbyterian General Assembly, 23 May 1952)
Tragically, for many people, adding “Christian” before art, movies, poetry etc. . . is the equivalent of adding “bad” before the same. Bad art, bad movies, bad poetry. It shouldn’t be so. We are bearers of the greatest message and the greatest story ever told. We make much of the Word of God and yet we seem novices in our craft. We are followers of the Word made flesh and yet often fail at bringing thought into reality in a compelling way. Unfortunately, bad Christian art is not just ignored, but becomes an excuse for unbelief–even a stumbling block.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been digitizing old reel-to-reel tapes in the Henrietta Mears archives at Gospel Light. This week, I ran across a message by Cecil B. DeMille, given at the 164th Presbyterian General Assembly. (The audio from the message is below). He talks of the importance of art and film in sharing faith. Here are some of the highlights:
We must use every method that the providence of God and the genius of man provide.
We must tell the story of our faith in the language of the developed and accepted professional motion picture techniques.
A successful picture requires drama and action. Drama means conflict. You cannot show the brightness of good unless you show it in contrast to the darkness of evil.
You cannot convey your message by putting preachments into the mouths of your characters; it must go out of the dramatic situations you create—and must be expressed in the action of the picture itself. That after all, is how we express our religion in life—not by what we say, but by what we do.
We should be masters of our craft. Masters of cinematography, writing, poetry and music. “Christian” ought to be the equivalent of “great.” I think this is probably what is meant by doing everything as “unto the Lord.”
God has gifted so many of the children, students and adults that we see each week in our ministries. We should encourage them to hone their skills and be great writers, poets, musicians and cinematographers. Who knows: the next Cecil B. DeMille may be sitting in your church today.
When I was six years old my family lived in a camp ground called El Capitan in Goleta, California. There were several families who lived there at the time. Enough that the local school district made the entrance to the campground a bus stop. In 1982 a local church decided to do a VBS for the kids who lived there. I remember very little about the VBS. I don’t remember the games, or the crafts or the music. All I remember was that I went with my friend Ricky. My parents hired his mom to watch my infant sister while they went to work. Ricky’s mom used to dip her pacifier in jalepeno juice and put it in my sister’s mouth. (Explains a lot–that’s a shout out to my sister.)
The most important thing I remember about that VBS was it was the place I made the decision to follow Jesus. I’m really grateful to the small Baptist church in Goleta for taking VBS outside the walls of the church.
After 15 years of family ministry–I wonder what would have happened if they had invited my family into the process. Would my father have decided to follow Jesus 6 years earlier?
At our church we do a baptism class for kids and their parents. In the class we present the Gospel and what it means to take the first step in following Jesus. Then we send parents home with homework. Their homework is to review what was shared and then pray with their children. Nearly every time we do the class not only do we see children decide to follow Jesus, but sometimes their parents too. We just think parents should be a part of the most important decisions their kids will ever make. Especially since they are likely to be there for all of the others.
And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Nearly 23 million kids will go to Vacation Bible Schools across the country. Several million will attend camp. Several million more kids will decide to follow Jesus this summer. Many of their parents would decide to follow Jesus if we invited them into the process. What would happen if we invited parents into the most important decision their children will ever make?
We live in a world that doesn’t view the Bible the way we do. And we have students and children who come to our churches that did not grow up with the same assumptions that we have about the Bible. We must do what the 1st Century Christians did for those first generations of Jesus-Followers and give them an understanding of why we believe what we believe.
Andy Stanley–Orange Conference, Main Session 2013
7 Guidelines for Communicating the Bible in a Biblically Illiterate and Skeptical World from the 2013 Orange Conference. #OC13
1. Choose a passage of scripture and stay there.
- I know that there is major debate about whether we should teach/preach verse-by-verse or verse-with-verse, but really–nothing is more confusing to a person who doesn’t know the Bible or the Bible narrative than hopping all over the Bible and using a whole bunch of passages of scripture like a proof text for a college paper. People coming into our churches don’t know the difference between Saul the King, and Saul the persecutor, Joseph the father of Jesus and Joseph and the technicolor dream coat. When we hop around the Bible we imply the Bible is complicated and confusing. By the way–this isn’t new: Henrietta Mears called this the Hop-Skip Method and believed it was the primary reason for the “boredom and disgust” of children in the Sunday School of her day
2. Give people permission not to believe or obey the scriptures. (I Corinthians 5:12)
“When you have a crowd of people who you suspect are non-Jesus followers, marginal, or not-sure-I-believe people, you have to give them permission not to believe or obey, because this isn’t even for them. . . . When you give non-Christians an out, they respond by leaning in.”
3. Teach in a manner that emphasizes the identity of Jesus over the authority of scripture.
Even though the Bible is the infallible, inspired Word of God our faith is not based upon “believing” in the infallibility and inspiration of the Bible. The foundation of our faith is based upon believing in an event in history: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
People must come to grips with the identity of Jesus before they can come to grips with the authority of the Bible. . . . the issue is always, “Who is Jesus?”
We shouldn’t expect rational people to believe that Jesus rose from the dead [simply] because “the Bible says so.”
“Do you know why we believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Not because “the Bible says so.” It’s because Matthew says so, Mark says so, Luke says so, John says so, James says so and Peter says so and they were all willing to die for what they said they believed.”
“Because the Bible says so” only works when the people you are talking to already believe what the Bible says. For those who don’t, “Because the Bible says so” makes us look foolish. And it doesn’t help our kids who will go into a hostile world where they will have to defend their faith.
4. Don’t refer to the Bible as a book.
It’s not a book. It’s way better than a book. A book implies that it is fiction. The problem is that most adults think the Bible is full of stories not history. Each week we share parts of history. Our kids need to know it is history not fiction.
“The Bible was written by over 40 different people over a several hundred year period and it tells one unique story about how sin came into the world and God fixed it. Isn’t that great? Now today we are going to look at this little piece of it.”
5. Cite authors not the Bible.
Every time you say something about an author you tie what you are saying to history, not stories.
“Today we are going to look at a letter written by James. James was the brother of Jesus. What would your brother have to do to convince you he was the Son of God?”
6. Acknowledge the odd as odd.
There are some odd things in the Bible. Most of what’s in the Bible is odd. We don’t need to be afraid of it, that’s just the way it is. It’s old.
We don’t have to worry about the odd things in the Bible because “the Bible says so” is not the reason we believe this but because Jesus believed this. I take the old testament seriously because Jesus took it seriously.
7. Don’t create the impression that one must choose between faith and science.
Science is the study of natural things. It attempts to find natural explanations for the world around us. Every time sciences discovers how something works we should be able to respond, “So that’s how God did it.”
How do you communicate the Bible to support lasting faith?
What if we could connect every person in our church with someone who would invest in them relationally? Someone who would meet with them regularly to help them process their faith journey and help them take their next spiritual step. A person who would coach them in how to have God conversations with others and articulate their faith? What if we could provide them with a weekly experience where they could practice sharing their faith with others, experience real time feedback and coaching? Where they could experience praying with someone for the first time? A weekly experience where they can see the impact sharing their faith has on the lives of others. A place they could experience the joy of leading people to Jesus and see God transform the lives of others through their investment of time, talent and resources. A place where they were provided all of the tools to not only communicate what God is doing in their life, but discover how God has moved throughout time and share it with others.
There is a ministry in our churches that already does this. This ministry is called Children’s Ministry–it may be one of the most untapped forms of adult discipleship on the planet. Adult discipleship through Children’s Ministry.
Think about it–
- Children’s Ministry connects people with leaders called Children’s Pastors, Sunday School Directors, Coaches or what ever you call them who invest relationally in them on a weekly basis and coach them as they learn to evangelize and disciple others.
- Children’s ministry provides virtually every tool imaginable for creatively sharing faith. Bet you didn’t know you could lead a person to Jesus with a popsicle stick? If you are at a loss for words we will even give you a script of what to say. But sometimes just sharing what God’s doing in your life is better.
- Children’s ministry provides a weekly environment to practice and hone skills in sharing faith. Full of energy, and generally pretty forgiving, children are eager to give you lots of feedback–sometimes instant feedback. You will improve from week to week or you may be eaten alive.
- Children’s ministry consistently tells the story of God through history–from Genesis to Revelation, often highlighting the biggest parts of the story several times.
- Children’s ministry effectively connects Christians with non-Christians. Last time I checked every one of the babies in our nursery was a non-believer.
- Children’s ministry provides a front row seat to how God transforms lives. If you ever wondered if God actually transforms lives, spend some time on a regular basis with the same kids every week and watch how God can change a child’s life. The key to seeing life-change is spending time with the same kids every week.
And you thought Children’s Ministry was just for kids. I challenge you to show me a ministry that is more intentional about training adults to share their faith with others.
I’m attending the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in Orlando and promised people attending my breakouts that I would put some resources online. So here you go.
Breakout: Why Children are the Most Important People in Your Church
Breakout Audio (MP3–This is audio of the same breakout from a different conference.)
If you are looking for more information about the breakouts email me. Or come to the Children’s Pastors’ Conference in San Diego.
In the last Pew Research survey nearly 34% of 20somethings raised their hands and said, “I am not a fan” of church. Basically when asked if they affiliated with a church, they checked the box marked “none.”
A few days ago, Ed Stetzer entered the fray and wrote an article entitled: Christianity Isn’t Dying, Cultural Christianity Is
I’d summarize his main point as: We are not seeing a real decline in actual believers, just nominal or cultural Christians who are no longer claiming an affiliation with church.
I’m just really glad that Ed Stetzer has clarified that the church isn’t really losing true believers, just its influence with nominal Christians who weren’t going to heaven anyway. So we should all breathe a sigh of relief—it’s not as bad as we might have thought.
All snarkiness aside, I agree with Ed Stetzer’s explanation. The primary issue however, is not whether the “nones” are the “nominal” Christians of a previous generation. The primary issue is about influence. “None” while more honest, seems to be a step in the wrong direction. It means that the church is losing influence with people in the community and it is losing influence at a greater rate and in a more pronounced way with 20-somethings. That’s a big deal.
Henrietta Mears was fond of saying, “The church is one generation away from extinction.” It isn’t alarmest; it is true. The situation is no less true because it is urgent.
The braver question is not “who?” but “why?” Why this group now? And what role did the church play in creating this? What responsibility should we take and what changes do we need to make as a church to reach the next generation?
“The church leaders who are seemingly most concerned about the dropout rate of that demographic [18-25 year olds] are the very ones who create the weekend experiences that this demographic finds entirely uncompelling. To say it another way, the group responsible for connecting eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds to local congregations are the catalysts for driving them away.”
from Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley
I happen to believe that Christianity may be becoming less a part of our culture because many churches have fallen in love with a mid-century, cultural church model rather than falling in love with the mission of the church. I’m speculating here, but my guess is, it is those churches that will be most interested in this explanation that seems to try and reduce the urgency of our mission.
I’ve had several people ask about getting information on the breakout I did at San Diego called Why Children Are the Most Important People in the Church–Everything you wish your senior pastor knew about Children’s Ministry.
So here is the information you are looking for.
Breakout Audio (MP3–I fixed the audio so that it is a littler clearer than what you may have bought at CPC)
Thanks for coming to my breakout.
Most people decide to follow Jesus between the ages of 4-14. This has been called the 4-14 Window. And if you are in church ministry being mindful of this window could be the most important thing you do. It is certainly why I believe that kidmin is the most important ministry of the church.
Kidmin is the most important ministry of the church.
I think that the 14-24 Window may be the next most important. While many decide to follow Jesus between 4-14, what their lives will look like, whether they will be fully devoted followers of Christ or just church attenders, whether they will be spiritual champions or spiritual second-handers is largely shaped by the decisions they make between ages 14-24. This is a monumental time in a person’s life that we cannot afford to neglect.
The evidence seems to bear out—that the church at large is not doing a very good job at this. In fact it was suggested in a recent article that we shouldn’t really be concerned with this age group at all. Instead, we should just chalk it up to stage of life and wait until they come back to the church in their mid-thirties. The short sightedness of this article made my toes curl. Most of the people I know who are in ministry today made decisions to commit their lives to service between 14-24. We are seriously impacting the future leaders of the Kingdom of God by neglecting this age group.
The most important aim we can have for 14-24 year olds is helping them find their place in God’s Story—helping them commit their lives to meaningful service in the Kingdom of God.
Here are just a few foundational things churches can do to leverage this spiritual window.
1. Connect youth with mature Christian adults. The more the better. Check out Family Based Youth Ministry by Mark Devries.
2. Get 14-24 year olds in circles. Real small groups where a mature Christian adult is investing in a small group of students every week. Better yet, have this person travel with them through high school and college. Yes, even through college.
3. Don’t let ministry end at graduation. The average 18 year old will be making most of their most life altering decisions in the first few years of college. Most youth are virtually abandoned on graduation day.
4. Incorporate 20somethings into a total ministry strategy from birth through 25. So much is wasted because Children’s Ministry, Youth Ministry and College Ministry leaders don’t play well together. The bodies left in the gaps between these silos is staggering. We must come together and develop a unified strategy.
5. Think beyond your curriculum. The destination of a series of classes or a curriculum is more knowledge. More knowledge and more classes cannot be a substitute for people doing life together.
6. Youth and 20somethings must have a sense of belonging in the church not just the youth ministry. Check out this interview with Chuck Bomar.
7. Help youth find their place in God’s Story.
8. Connect the Church and home. What happens at home always trumps what happens at church.