An Urgent and Enormous Need
By John Mark Eager
The Need of the Children of the World
NEVER has the need of the children of the world been greater than TODAY! At present, there are 1.86 billion children in the world 15 years old and younger – 27% of the world’s 6.89 billion population. 1 Of these 1.86 billion children, between 85-89 percent of them live in the two-thirds world. 2
Millions of children today live without essential necessities to ensure their survival and well-being such as easy access to potable water and proper sanitation. They are, as a result, more vulnerable to disease and insufficient nutrition. Furthermore they lack the opportunity to obtain quality education. Many are victims of violence, abuse, exploitation, discrimination and neglect. There are 160 million street children, 150 million engaged in child labor, 101 million not attending primary school and 2 million children under the age of 15 living with HIV.3
The recent global economic downturn exposes children to even greater hunger and malnutrition, lack of opportunity and hardship. Children and young people are the most at risk from poverty.They are, perhaps, the most overlooked, oppressed segments of our global society.
Children are the Greatest Opportunity for the Church Today!
Despite the grim statistics, ministry to children is invigorating, fruitful and essential. Thom S. Rainer, in his book, The Bridger Generation, 2005, wrote, “Out of the thousands surveyed, four out of five said they became a Christian during childhood or adolescence. The research led me to realize that the church cannot afford to wait for kids to reach adulthood before we evangelize them. As other Christian researchers have noted, the statistical probability of someone accepting Christ after age nineteen decreases dramatically.” 5
In his book, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, George Barna wrote, “Ministry to children is the single most strategic ministry in God’s kingdom. By age nine, most children have their spiritual moorings in place. It is far easier to have influence before the foundations are firm.”He reinforces his research finding that these foundations develop early, writing, “It seems that by the time he or she is nine, the child shifts mental gears and begins to use the cues he or she receives from that point forward to either confirm or challenge an existing perspective. By the time the child has reached this age, it is much more difficult to change an existing view than to form a new view.”6
According to Barna research conducted in 1999 in the U.S., 85 percent of all those who accept Christ do so between 4-14 years of age. This is a compelling statistic that speaks to the openness and vulnerability of children to the Gospel and the tremendous opportunity to win them to Christ in their developing years. The Barna Research Group was also the first to determine when people come to Christ, and their probability of accepting Christ at different life stages. It concluded that American children 5-13 years old are eight times more likely than teenagers to accept Christ and more than five times more likely than adults.7
In his book, The Bridger Generation, Thom Rainer underscores Barna’s research writing that “the most receptive group in America may very well be an age-related group . . . more than any other factor – race, class, culture, etc. – age seems to be the key to receptivity.” Rainer’s research also demonstrated that over half of Christians today accepted Christ before the age 13.3.8
Dan Brewster, in his book, Child, Church and Mission: A Resource Book for Christian Child Development Workers, Compassion International, 2005, writes, “…the openness of children to the Good News is present in culture and societies around the world, regardless of religious or cultural background.”9
All of this data challenges the widely held belief that the teenage years are prime years for evangelistic activity by clearly indicating that the greatest evangelistic window of opportunity is among children around the world.
Sadly, while children are clearly the greatest, most fruitful harvest field, church giving does not reflect the evangelizing and discipleship of children as a strategic priority. One survey of American senior Protestant pastors found that only 15% had missions as any one of their top three priorities for the coming year!10
Globally, one-tenth of one percent (.01%) of all Christian income went to global foreign missions, estimates David Barrett in his annual “Status of Global Mission” report for 2005. Seven-tenths of one percent (.07) went to churches and another 1.2% went to para-church organizations globally.11 “Though Christians number only 33% of the world population, they receive 53% of the entire world’s annual income – and spend 98% of it on themselves,” Barrett wrote.12 Barrett has estimated that 34.3 million people die without Christ annually, and of those, 13.2 million (almost 1/3) were never evangelized. In all, 65% of those dying annually aren’t Christians.13
C. Peter Wagner defines what is called “the harvest principle” by stating that “at a given point in time certain people groups, families, and individuals will be more receptive to the message of the Gospel than others. The Savior Himself indicated this mandate when He spoke to His disciples: “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest” (John 4:35).14 This motivates us to reach the children!
We conclude that whatever beliefs a person embraces when he or she is young are not likely to change as the individual ages and, by the age of thirteen, a person’s spiritual identity is largely set in place. History and experience both reveal that children are a fertile mission field for the Gospel.
In summary, we concur with the following quote from Barna:
As you ponder how to invest your personal resources of all types – time, money, experience, ability, facilities, expertise and so on – keep in mind that there is no better investment than nurturing our youngsters for an eternal payback. The research reinforces one simple but profound truth over and over again: If you want to have a lasting influence upon the world, you must invest in people’s lives; and if you want to maximize that investment, then you must invest in those people while they are young…In other words, if you connect with children today, effectively teaching them biblical principles and foundations from the start, then you will see the fruit of that effort blossom for decades to come…The choice is yours.15
1 United States Agency International Development, USAID, Population Reference Bureau, www.prb.org/pdf10/10wpds_eng.pdf
2 Ibid, and David B. Barrett, “Status of Global Missions”, 1996
3UNICEF, “The State of the World’s Children” 2009, Executive Summary, p. 42
4Ibid (p 43)
5Thom S. Rainer, The Bridger Generation, 2005 (p. ix)
6 George Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, 2003, (p. 14)
7Barna Research Group, “Teens and Adults Have Little Chance of Accepting Christ as Their
Saviour”, November, 1999
8 Thom Rainer, The Bridger Generation, 1997
9 Dan Brewster, Child, Church and Mission: A Resource Book for Christian Child Development
Workers, Compassion International, 2005
10 “Church Priorities for 2005 Vary Considerably,” 02/14/05,
11 Barrett, David B., Todd M. Johnson, and Peter F. Crossing, 2005, Missiometrics 2005:
A Global Survey of World Mission
12 Barrett, David, George Kurian and Todd Johnson, 2001, World Christian Encyclopedia,
13 Barrett and Johnson, World Christian Trends, AD 30-AD2200, 2001, p. 59
14 C. Peter Wagner, Church Growth and the Whole Gospel: A Biblical Mandate, 1981, p. 77
15 George Barna, Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions, 2003, (p. 42)