Reimagining How to Reach the Future Church
by Lydia Kaiser
Largest Children’s Ministry Focuses on Partnering with Churches to Reach Gen Z in the Public School
If we are to reimagine how to reach the world with the Gospel, we need to think more creatively about reaching children. We say that children are the future, but we largely wait for them to grow up and grow hard hearts before we attempt to reach them with the Gospel. After the age of 19, someone’s probability of accepting Christ drops to just 6%. 1
There always has been a full-blown, spiritual attack on children. But now it’s bolder. The church must engage in the battle like never before. Barna Research shows that what a young person believes by the time they are 13 years old is most likely what they will believe until death. So, this emphasis on children must be prior to the teen years if we are to succeed.
The battle is more difficult than ever because children are not being taken to church. In the past, even wayward adults would go back to church once they had children—for the sake of their kids. This has not been true for over a decade. 2 The social center of the community was the church, but now it is the school.
Church attendees trend older, meaning far fewer than 18% of children were in church. Now we have the additional phenomena of people who never got around to returning to church after the pandemic. “The percentage of people [with] a biblical worldview declines in each successively younger generation…to only 4 percent of Gen Z [teenagers].” 4 This is a foreboding statistic for the Gen Z children who are coming next.
If we keep waiting for children to be brought to church, we will never reach them. We must take the Bible to where they are—the public school.
“But is that legal?” Yes, through after-school clubs. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in Good News Club v. Milford Central School District that schools must give the same access to clubs with a religious perspective as they give to clubs of a secular nature. Any restriction is discrimination based on viewpoint, a violation of First Amendment rights of free speech and religion. Parents give written permission for participation in all clubs; therefore attendance is voluntary and not an establishment of religion by the school.
Many working parents need their kids to attend clubs as part of after-school care. Other parents want kids to attend Bible club, knowing that they themselves are not providing spiritual guidance. Kids go because their friend invited them or because their God-given desire to discover Him and worship Him hasn’t been stamped out yet.
The largest elementary after-school club in the USA is the Good News Club®, operated by Child Evangelism Fellowship® (CEF®) and sponsored by local churches. These clubs numbered just over 6,000 pre-COVID with 5,000 located in school facilities. During the pandemic, CEF pivoted to Zoom clubs, reaching many children desperate for interaction, and even their families looked on. In-person clubs are now resurging.
Harvest Bible Church in Lancaster County, PA is an example of a sponsoring church.
First, the local CEF chapter held a training for all the church’s children’s workers. This gave their existing volunteers more confidence as well as added several to their number, strengthening the church’s ability to minister to children in the church.
Secondly, the CEF chapter director gained entry into Wharton Elementary School. CEF has it down to a science—meeting with school officials, training and screening club volunteers, and supplying proven processes and curriculum with an exciting program that keeps kids coming back.
Churches often begin with a Party Club to introduce kids to the after-school Christian club concept. It also gives volunteers their first taste of school outreach. After this positive experience, both volunteers and children are excited to begin a weekly Good News Club in the same or next semester. After two years of operating successful clubs at Wharton Elementary School, Harvest Bible was eager to expand into Brecht Elementary in Manheim Township. When a club becomes too large, it is split into two classrooms. The church’s club team leader, Stacie Marrie, was asked why so many volunteers return year after year. She replied, “We love it!”
The team’s love for the children is evident as they listen carefully to prayer requests and address the children’s questions in small group time. As current students were asked what they enjoyed about club, each one mentioned something about the leaders. They know they are loved.
Harvest Bible has a wonderful relationship with their school, due to investment such as hosting a staff breakfast and providing a “rainy day recess bin” for classrooms. The church invites children and their parents to regular church programs and sends a bus for kids who need a ride. A number of parents began attending as a result.
When a church loves and encourages children, parents appreciate it like nothing else. Parenting is such hard work that when a child comes home with a new attitude, parents take notice and want to meet whoever is responsible. For this reason, it is not uncommon to have parental visitors at club. When kids get excited about Jesus and beg to be taken to church, their Good News Club teacher’s church is first choice.
The three-fold purpose of CEF revolves around evangelizing children with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, discipling them through regular Bible teaching, and connecting them with local, Bible-believing churches for further growth and community. “This three-fold purpose is like a three-legged stool,” says Moises Esteves, Executive VP. “All three are essential for children to come into faith and follow Jesus throughout their lives.”
Over 85 years of reaching children, CEF has seen child converts grow into strong leaders—pastors, missionaries and CEF directors. When the National Association of Evangelicals surveyed adult members who are active in their Christian walk, 63% of them came to Christ by the age of 14. This window of opportunity has come to be known as the “4-14 Window” and is the sole focus of CEF.
The harvest field of children is more productive than any other, yet the typical church budget puts far more resources into adult ministries. Says Esteves, “Jesus put a priority on children, described throughout Matthew 18. The times are more urgent than ever, and we stand ready to support local churches in this most important mission.”
More information about the ministry of CEF can be found at cefonline.com. Information about Good News Clubs is at cefonline.com/gnc. State and local chapter offices can be found at chapters.cefonline.com
Lydia Kaiser is the mother of three young adults whom she homeschooled. Her family has always been involved in outreach to children in the community through CEF, church, and Christian camp, all ministries that were enhanced by her CEF training. Lydia is thrilled to have become a first-time grandmother on July 3, 2022.