No evangelical church has unlimited resources in facilities, money and often a more limiting factor, staff and volunteers. Therefore, to be most effective in its evangelical mission of bring the Love of God to the largest number of the unchurched, it is important that a church focus its resources and efforts where there is the highest probability of success; that it focus on a niche of the unchurched in its geographic market area who are most likely to be attracted to attend.
This is sometimes referred to as targeting for evangelism. Dr. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Orange County, California, one of the fastest growing churches in American, points out:
"The practice of targeting specific kinds of people for evangelism is a biblical principal of ministry. It's as old as the New Testament. Jesus targeted his ministry... [Jesus] publicly identified his ministry target as the Jews. Was Jesus being unfair or prejudiced? Certainly not. Jesus targeted his ministry in order to be effective, not to be exclusive."
The question that is typically raised is who should be targeted? An investigation of research on reaching the unchurched shows that families with younger children, and more specifically the children, are often the best target market.
Probably the most convincing argument why targeting children's ministry for evangelism can be the most effective is research on the probability of people accepting Jesus Christ as their savior for a lifetime relationship. Research by George Barna and the Barna Institute of over 1,000 adults in May 2001 puts the probability at
In other words, attracting younger children to a church to learn about the Love of God will have 5 to 8 times the impact of attracting the same number of older children or adults. Barna's research on faith development and discipleship also found that the moral development of children is complete by age 9.
Non-religious oriented research on children's moral and values development substantiates that the foundation for lifelong values and morals are formed at the earliest years.
The May 2001 Barna's research also showed that church attendance by children has a lifelong impact. The majority (61%) of adults who attended church as children still attend regularly, while only 22% of those who were not churchgoers as children attend church today.
Early churchgoing also has an impact on whether parents bring their children to church. For parents who were churched as children, 63% take their own children to church. That's double the proportion among adults who were not churched and now have children of their own (33%).
George Barna states:
"The research is very clear: if Jesus is not already part of their lives by the time they leave junior high school, the chances of them accepting Him as their Lord and savior is very slim (6%, to be exact). With children, it is just the opposite. Because of the challenges and insecurities they face in life, they are very open to being a part of a community of like-minded people who grow together. Children have a tremendous influence within their families and on the choices they make in all areas of life...
The greatest evangelical window currently available is among young children."
R. S. Lee, the author of Your Growing Children and Religion says it this way:
"The first seven years [of life] constitute the period for laying the foundations of religion. This is the most important period in the whole of a person's life in determining his later religious attitudes."
Research has clearly substantiated the Bible verse
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and
when he is old he will not depart from it."
For additional information on the unchurched, visit the Barna Institute website.
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