Don’t Neglect the 4–14 Window of Children’s Ministry

I was with a group of senior pastors when one casually mentioned that his church was not engaging in any major missional initiatives at the moment. Ironically, that very week his church was hosting a vacation Bible school that would reach hundreds of children.

Many leaders care deeply about mission: evangelizing neighborhoods, planting churches, engaging cities, and sending missionaries. But children’s ministry is often categorized as a necessary but unimportant department that exists to support real missional efforts.

But this is an unfortunate way to view children’s ministry. These programs can be as significant as any other evangelistic and missions-related initiatives of the church. Here are five reasons why.

1. Children can be both churched and unsaved.

One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen among those who have a heart for the lost is that they don’t see the children in their own church as lost. Every child, even the cute ones in our Sunday schools, needs the gospel. Our goal is not just to get the children into church, but into Christ.

So if the church is to be missional, let’s be missional with those closest to us—the ones already within the church walls.

2. Both church and parents are responsible.

No church is responsible for presenting the gospel to every lost person in the world. Yet each local church is responsible for its own unsaved children. If a church is not actively presenting the gospel to its children, it’s likely not equipping parents to teach their own children either.

Religious education in our society is mostly limited to the home and church. If churches and parents don’t reach children, who will?

3. Children are more likely to embrace Christ.

In a 2015 survey, the National Association of Evangelicals found that 63 percent of Christians accepted Jesus Christ between the ages of 4 and 14. This stage of life is a window of opportunity for the church where the harvest is plentiful (Matt. 9:37).

Missiologists often speak of the need for the church to reach the 10–40 window. The church also needs to be mindful of the 4–14 window.

4. Children form an emotional impression of church.

The 4–14 window is not only the time when a child is most likely to embrace the gospel, it’s also when they will form an emotional impression of church. Not all children will receive the gospel during their 4–14 window, and some may even leave the church during their young adult years. But one of the most important determinants of a returning churchgoer will be the quality of the deposit the church made during the child’s formative years.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Sons (Luke 15:11–32), the wayward son eventually becomes desperate and comes to his senses. At this moment he remembers the kindness of his father and determines to return home. The church must prepare the hearts of the children for the time when they come to their senses.

5. Children are a bridge to families.

A church that is great at helping 4- to 14-year-olds flourish spiritually will attract those who are looking for a church to call home. If a church wants to be missional with families, it must be missional with the kids.

If a church wants to be missional with families, it must be missional with the kids.

What Missional Children’s Ministries Do Well

Families entrust their greatest treasure to the church: their children. Flourishing missional children’s ministries will take that responsibility and do great things.

Here are four marks of churches with thriving missional children’s ministries.

1. They allow the voices at the table.

Good churches will have great communication between the senior leaders and those who lead children’s ministries. Even better, include those who represent children’s ministries at the senior leadership level.

2. They count their kids.

Churches with missional children’s ministries measure progress for their children as well. They count attendance, professions of faith, devotionals, and spiritual growth. Children are part of the overall health metrics of a church.

3. Their senior leader shows visible support.

If the senior leader gives heart and mind to a wing of the church, those who staff and populate it will flourish. Otherwise, it will become an afterthought. Missional children’s ministries need senior leadership to care about them.

4. They make children’s ministry positions a landing spot.

Leading children’s ministry is often treated as a temporary stop or a second-tier position. Churches with thriving children’s ministries, however, make children’s ministry leaders pillar positions in the church, alongside the senior/teaching pastor and worship pastor.

The work we are doing with our children is more than Sunday morality school.

We understand our fundamental call to be missional. We also need to understand that the work we are doing with our children is more than Sunday morality school. Our children are sinners in need of the gospel. Let’s make sure we see them as the unique mission field they are.