How many mission trips have you been a part of in which the evangelistic focus was centered around children? In my mission and ministry experience, the most common demographic for evangelistic efforts are children. Energetic teams hop off a bus armed with balloons, refreshments, and gospel presentations ready to win the next generation to Christ.
Going through different ministry trainings, I heard numerous times that the chance of someone becoming a Christian dramatically decreases once that person reaches the age of 18. In my experience, I would agree with that assessment. Due to that belief, great focus is reasonably put on reaching younger people with the gospel.
But is it the best approach? Imagine that one day, on your drive home from work, you notice a lot of activity in the park near your neighborhood. As you drive by this festival-type atmosphere, you realize that your 7 year-old daughter is sitting down with a bunch of other children listening to some type of story time. You recognize many of the children, but the storyteller is unknown to you. After parking your car, you see your daughter raising her hand. One of the adults begins to talk with her and it looks as if they are praying together.
Curiosity turns into concern, and you start to pick up your pace a bit only to realize that a group of Bahá’í missionaries have just converted your daughter to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh without your permission or approval. Outrage is an understatement. You are considering calling authorities to address this unthinkable situation.
I paint that picture because our method of carrying out the Great Commission must be addressed.
For many of the evangelical world, we attempt to convert children to Christ in North America and all over the world. Honestly, the approach we use to convert children to Christianity would infuriate us if applied by adherents of other religions to the children living in our own homes. We would expect, if not even demand, that someone come talk with us before they talk with our children.
Additionally, this approach rarely works. The problem is that many of these children return to a home where Christ is not exalted and that seed that was planted is never able to establish roots and will eventually die (Matt 13:20-21). If you want to give that child the best chance at following Christ, get their parents to follow Christ.
As we talk of the Great Commission, we must remember that God said to make disciples of all nations. The church is called to make disciples in Ethiopia, China, Guatemala, and even the United States. The approach should be the same in all places. If you want to reach the children, reach the parents first. The implication is that the best way to disciple the children and youth in your town is to first disciple their parents and equip them with what they need to disciple their own children.