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Homosexual rights activists gain influence in public schools (10/17/04)

Church’s prayer births children’s ministry (10/17/04)

Partner program revitalizes dying church (10/10/04)

Church music festival attracts variety of visitors (10/10/04)

Churches urge compassion for alienated smokers (9/19/04)

Youth ride wooden waves in church parking lots (9/12/04)

A/G, COGIC join forces through inner-city campus (9/12/04)

Christians respond to victimized women and children (8/29/04)

Growing slavic church shares new facility (8/29/04)

Couple embarks on capitol prayer tour (8/29/04)

ADHD requires multifaceted treatment approach (8/22/04)

Small congregation grows — by planting churches (8/22/04)

‘Under God’ stays in Pledge of Allegiance, at least for now (8/8/04)

Church reaches out to those feeling loss (8/8/04)

Churches act pre-emptively to reduce risk of abuse (7/25/04)

Credit cards ensnare record number of Americans (7/25/04)

Church helps out with donated CD, recycled buses (7/25/04)

New wave of pastors minister to emerging adults (7/18/04)

‘Walking Witnesses’ raise thousands for missions (7/18/04)

Healing center offers alternative medicine (7/18/04)

Growing number of Hispanics impact economy (7/11/04)

'Busy' couple finds time for compassion ministry (7/11/04)

Hand-copied Bible leaves 40-year legacy (7/11/04)

Pastor ends hunger strike when strip club promises to sell (6/27/04)

‘Military survival kit’ requests inundate A/G (6/27/04)

Fourth of July outreach draws thousands (6/27/04)

Drivers warned to steer clear of distractions (6/27/04)

Pastors face more counseling demands (6/20/04)

Church uses touch of ‘flavor’ to reach community (6/20/04)

Outrageous self-expression often starts, stops at home (6/13/04)

Runner raises $5,200 for Convoy of Hope (6/13/04)

Euphemisms tempt Christians to conveniently shed sin, guilt (5/30/04)

Funds for Easter play buy groceries instead (5/30/04)

Identity theft threatens millions of Americans (5/23/04)

Spanish speakers face challenges, opportunities in United States culture (5/16/04)

Health experts implore Americans to get fit (5/9/04)

Leaders say Christian faith stems recidivism (4/25/04)

Riders feel at home in Orlando sanctuary (4/18/04)

Churches try to keep human touch with new media (4/11/04)

Christians see Passion as ministry opportunity (3/28/04)

Tutoring improves lives, opens doors for evangelism (3/21/04)

Cybertheft costly — especially for Christians (3/14/04)

A/G women seize new ministry opportunities (2/29/04)

Investment in early spiritual maturity reaps rewards (2/22/04)

Christian families respond to foster care opportunities (2/15/04)

Childless couples grapple with emotional roller coaster, faith challenges (2/8/04)

Few men seek help from abortion grief, guilt (1/18/04)

Women who answer God's call provide valuable local ministries (1/11/04)

2003 PE Report stories

Frontline Reports

2002 PE Report stories

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

Investment in early spiritual maturity reaps rewards


Three years of research regarding ministry to children has revealed many surprising outcomes, according to a new book by researcher George Barna. In Transforming Your Children into Spiritual Champions, Barna indicates that the research not only changed his perspective on the importance of ministering to young children, but also clarified why churches struggle to have significance in American society.

“Adults essentially carry out the beliefs they embraced when they were young,” Barna says. “The reason why Christians are so similar in their attitudes, values and lifestyles to non-Christians is that they were not sufficiently challenged to think and behave differently — radically differently, based on core spiritual perspectives — when they were children.” The Glendale, Calif.-based author and founder of Barna Research Group says simply getting people to go to church regularly is not the key to their becoming mature Christians. Spiritual transformation requires a more extensive investment in one’s ability to interpret all life situations in spiritual terms, he believes.

Barna’s research revealed that lifelong behaviors and views are generally developed at an early age, usually before reaching the teenage years. A person’s moral foundations are generally in place by age 9. While the application of those foundations may shift to some extent as an individual ages, fundamental perspectives on truth, integrity, meaning, justice, morality and ethics are formed early in life. After the first decade, most people simply refine their views as they age without a wholesale change in those leanings.

Nurturing environment: Children learn lessons in a Sunday School class.

In addition, a person’s response to the meaning and personal value of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection is usually determined before reaching 12, according to Barna. In nearly every case, spiritual beliefs — such as perceptions of the nature of God, the existence of Satan, the reliability of the Bible, perceptions regarding the afterlife, the holiness of Jesus Christ and the influence of spiritual forces — are irrevocably formed before a person reaches the teens, Barna says.

Wes Bartel, director of the Assemblies of God national Sunday School Department, found the results of the report to be amazing — and alarming. “This study challenges us to rethink the whole issue of our priorities,” he says.

The church must focus more attention on discipleship, Bartel believes. “If biblical discipleship is really a priority of one’s church, then ministries like Sunday School and other children’s discipleship ministries become non-negotiable,” he says. Consequently, church ministry leaders need to ponder important questions such as:

  • How much is being invested in training and teaching ministries?
  • Is Pentecostal curriculum being used to pass on doctrinal distinctives?
  • Is there regular training and encouragement of Sunday School teachers and workers?
  • Is Sunday School promoted and are people encouraged to attend and be involved?

Adult church leaders usually have serious involvement in church life and training when they are young, giving credence to Proverbs 22:6, which states, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” The statistics gathered by Barna’s firm among a national sample of pastors, church staff and lay leaders showed that more than 80 percent had consistently been involved in the ministry as children for an extended period of years before age 13. One implication is that the individuals who will become the church’s leaders two decades from now are probably active in church programs today.

Barna cites research showing that a large proportion of church-going people drop out of church between ages 18 and 24. He notes the importance of families taking the lead in the spiritual development of children rather than expecting pastors or Sunday School teachers to do the job. “In situations where children became mature Christians, we usually found a symbiotic partnership between their parents and their church,” he says. “Parents, for their part, raised their children in the context of a faith-based community that provided security, belonging, spiritual and moral education, and accountability.”

Barna’s research shows that, at a typical Protestant church, more than four out of every 10 people receiving ministry during the week are children, even though seven out of every eight ministry dollars are spent on adults. Barna points out that simply spending money on children does not produce great results. “The most important resource was the amazing amount of prayer for children and parents that was evident at the most effective ministries to children,” he says.

The researcher admitted that the outcome of his studies produced a significant turnabout in his own views about ministry. “I have always accepted the dominant notion: the most important ministry is that conducted among adults,” Barna says. “But the overwhelming evidence we have seen of the huge impact in the lives of kids and the relatively limited changes in the lives of adults has completely revolutionized my view of ministry. I have concluded that children are the single most important population group for the church to focus upon.”

Bartel notes that training isn’t the sole domain of the church. “The home is primary and indispensable to the discipleship process,” he says. “We are instructed to teach God’s Law to our children. Family devotions and regular discussion of God’s Word must be the norm rather than the exception.”

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