America's Primary Mission Field

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Whose Mission Is This Anyway?

Certainly one of the challenges your church faces is to help parents raise their children to connect with God and possess a biblical worldview so that they understand, interpret and respond to the world in ways that reflect biblical principles and advance the kingdom of God. It's difficult to do all that, however, in the one or two hours a week that a church has with the typical child. And yet few parents feel up to the task of raising spiritual champions. Only one out of every five parents believes they are doing a good job at helping their kids in moral and spiritual development.

A profile of their children verifies this: By age 18, just one out of three knows Christ as his savior, while only 2 percent of teens regularly attending a Christian church have a biblical worldview. To their credit, most parents are willing to partner with their church in the process and even look to the church to take the lead in mapping the route to spiritual maturity for their children.

The all-too-common scenario of parents dropping off their kids at church so the religious professionals can do their magic reflects the fact that most parents have no clue how to raise a spiritual champion. Their Plan B is to rely upon a local church to do it for them. The sooner we help parents recognize that this job is primarily their responsibility, and that the local church exists to encourage and assist them in the process, the better off the church and society will be.

One of the best ways churches can help parents is by establishing reasonable developmental standards for parents to shoot for—outcomes that few of them achieved as youngsters and may not have reached even as adults!

Consider the minimal degree of spiritual training currently taking place in the homes of churched families. Fewer than one out of every 10 prays together during a typical month, other than at mealtimes. The same percentage reads or studies the Bible together during the month, other than when they're on the church grounds. And less than 5 percent ever worship God together, apart from church services.

Clearly, spiritual development is not high on the agenda of most churched families, but the church can help to change that by training and supporting parents for the task.

How to Leave a Mark

There is a tendency among pastors and church staff to think that the local church is responsible for the spiritual growth of children. That's only partially correct. In the best of situations, child development is a partnership, led by the parents, in which the community of faith provides support.

Experience—and research—shows that in the contemporary American context, the steady, purposeful assistance of the local church is critical in that partnership. Parents are typically willing but uninformed and ill skilled to raise spiritual champions. Knowing how to prepare and redirect parents, while maintaining the interest and enthusiasm of children, takes real wisdom and creativity.

In the end, if your church is interested in changing the world for Christ, your best chance of leaving its mark is by ministering to children. They are, in essence, your primary mission field. And as harsh as this may sound, they are often the only segment within the church body where measurable transformation occurs.

By the way, if you sometimes wonder why ministry to adults is so difficult, perhaps it is because most of them did not receive adequate spiritual training during their childhood. They may have had positive church experiences but lacked biblically inspired spiritual formation experiences. They may have had parents who religiously brought them to church but failed to make their homes a church. And they may have developed a belief in Christ but not a deep relationship with Him. You can change all of that for the emerging generations by aggressively investing in the lives of children.

George Barna is chairman of The Barna Group, in Ventura, Calif. He has written 39 books, including Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions (Regal Books) and Revolutionary Parenting (Tyndale House). He leads a small church and lives with his wife and three daughters in Southern California.

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