This month’s podcast features Joel Southerland. Joel serves as the Executive Director of Evangelism for the North American Mission Board. Join us today as we discuss evangelism and ministry. Show notes can be found here.
Many of us have seen it or heard of it. A preacher shares the gospel message with a group of children. At the end of the presentation he asks something like, “How many of you want to have Jesus as your Savior today?” A few hands go up, then a few more. Before you know it little hands all over the room are raised. The preacher does the only thing that he has been taught to do. He asks all the children in the room whose hands are raised to close their eyes as he guides them through the “Sinner’s Prayer.”
Unfortunately, this is not the best way to talk to children about Jesus. It is not the “Sinner’s Prayer” or the public presentation of the gospel that makes this situation uncomfortable, but the fear that the children may not understand the decision they have made. Child evangelism is probably more difficult than any other age group. Children have limited knowledge and understanding of our church language and vocabulary. Children may even struggle with why they need Jesus in the first place. So, with all of these variables that take place in child evangelism here are just a few do’s and don’ts:
- Don’t be manipulative. Children need Jesus, but they still need to make that decision for themselves. They don’t need to make a decision to impress their friends, and they don’t need you to make them scared of hell simply to accept Jesus.
- Don’t pressure. Much research has been published verifying that the likelihood of someone becoming a Christian diminishes after the age of eighteen. While this should call the church to urgently reach children, we should never pressure a child into making a decision that they do not want to make or do not clearly understand.
- Don’t use adult terminology that they do not understand. Words such as sin, repent, righteousness, sanctification, and justification are all concepts that a child should come to understand, but use definitions and concepts that they will understand now. This can also mean you cannot give them a bunch of bible verses and expect them to understand those either. Even some of the modern translations are too difficult for children to understand.
- Don’t turn away question. Children learn by asking questions. When a child asks an inconvenient question answer it anyway. This is a teachable moment that shapes the child.
- Don’t be afraid to fail. Often times we can feel like failures when a person does not accept Christ, but that is not our fault. Children especially learn through repetition so tell them about Jesus over and over.
- Do show them that you care. Children will always listen to people who they know care about them. So have fun, be silly, and show them the faith you have. If they decide to follow Jesus, continue to care for them by showing them how to follow Jesus daily.
- Do tell them it is important. While not pressuring, explain to the child why salvation is important. They may have never considered that they even need Jesus.
- Do be clear. When sharing the gospel with children make sure that you use words and examples that they understand. Evangelistic tools that include visuals and pictures such as bracelets and EvangeCubes may be beneficial.
- Do share the gospel with their lost parents. One of the best ways to reach a lost child with the gospel is to reach their lost parents. Children value what their parents value and they talk about what their parents talk about. They are at times mini versions of their parents. If you can reach their parents, you have a far better chance of reaching the child.
Child evangelism is difficult, but it works. When I was seven years old, I attended a Vacation Bible where a church and a pastor used these principles to share Jesus with me. The gospel presented to me that day was loving but not pressured. It was urgent but not manipulative. I am forever grateful for that day when God used them to share Jesus with a child, like me.