If I’m honest, I found church to be dull whilst growing up. What a surprise when a 9-year-old school friend wanted to tag along one Sunday. Her family didn’t go to church. She didn’t know the songs about Jesus or the Lord’s prayer. At the close of service, when the pastor – who also happened to be my dad – opened the floor for prayer requests, my friend stood up. My heart was in my mouth. She asked if we could pray for her family to come along. I was shocked. Never before had I seen a child present a prayer request to the whole church. What courage!
Many years and moves later, I’ve lost track of this inquisitive friend, but I trust God has not. Seeds were planted. The gospel presented. Perhaps we’ll reunite in heaven. I hope so.
Feeding eager minds and loving tender hearts
The heart of a child is fertile soil, yet childhood is a fleeting season. The peak of that season is between the ages of 5 and 11. Parents and churches alike are wise to recognise this heightened yet short-lived opportunity for evangelism.
Kids under five are typically in tow as parents build friendships and entertain guests, but whatever evangelism happens belongs to the parents. At the other end, by the time children enter the teenage years, parents have stopped being part of school gate chats and arranging play dates. Talking about Jesus is now at the sole discretion of the child.
There is a sweet spot between pre-school and secondary school; the primary school years. Old enough to articulate questions and answers, still tender in heart and eager of mind. Primary school aged children present churches and parents with an opportunity for gospel partnership. As families. As Sunday school groups and after-school clubs. Together. With our children we can discover and practise the process of evangelism: making friends, loving freely, praying desperately and offering Christ. Our children can learn from us and with us how to weave God into everyday conversation and life. At the school gate. When we chat in the car. When we hang out with friends and share joys and sorrows. As we pray in the middle of a hard conversation. Will our children see their parents living among those who aren’t Christians? Family evangelism isn’t formulaic; neither the parent nor the child should feel pressure to ‘make something happen’, but we can partner with our children as we make the most of every opportunity:
‘Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone’ (Colossians 4:5–6).
Who are their mates?
At school, children make friends on their own. They engage in conversations, conflicts, and camaraderie that we may know little about. Happily, children at this age are usually eager to let us into their world.
- During a meal or a drive ask your child, Who do you sit next to at lunch? Who do you enjoy playing with? What do you like about him/her?
- Get to know the parents of their friends. Partner with your child as they learn how to build great friendships. Arrange a time for families to connect. Meet up at a park. Have a family over for tea and biscuits. Play a game of football or frisbee. Get both mums and dads involved.
- Choose two families to pray for. Write their names on a slip of paper, or on a rock with a Sharpie, to remind your family to ask God for opportunities to interact and for God to open eyes to the gospel.
- When a family, or your child’s friend, joins you for a meal, pray as you normally would. As you chat, don’t edit God out of the conversation. While we don’t want to force the gospel or preach a sermon, we do want to ‘season our conversations with salt’.
What’s going on?
Churches can develop a proven track record of excellence within the community. With a little preparation and a lot of love, church-run events can give families a chance to share Jesus with their friends.
- Talk about how your child can invite their friend to the events your church is running; like a family fun day, a holiday club, or regular Sunday church service.
- Once we have spent time with our child’s friend’s family, we can invite them to meet our church family at an event or after a Sunday service.
- Pray with your child for those friends and parents to come to events and/or church.
- When friends can’t attend, or don’t turn up as promised, recognise your child’s disappointment. Share their sadness, and then pray some more.
- Invite carefully. Children are often turned away from special events due to lack of space or leaders, so think carefully before inviting friends from other churches; the places are precious so let’s use them for those who don’t already know Jesus.
A word for church leaders
Sometimes we can get so focused on ‘bodies in the building’ that we lose sight of the ultimate goal, to see whole families brought to saving faith. Free food and bouncy castles will naturally draw children and their parents, but these incentives are meant to initiate relationships and conversations. Events and programmes aren’t the end; they’re meant to be opportunities for friendships and to bring whole families closer to Christ. All the fizzy drinks in the world can’t replace prayer, honest conversations, and investing in relationship.
Evangelism ignites our own faith. Our kids are no exception. I remember the evening when 10-year-old Joe sat next to his best friend through a gospel talk, during an evangelistic family event. Joe prayed through the entire talk for his friend; praying that his friend would listen, understand and respond in faith. Our children can be trained in evangelism by living the experience. So when their friend doesn’t turn up as promised, we can share in our child’s disappointment. Together we can recognise that while we get to tell others about Jesus, God alone opens our friends’ hearts and eyes. Both the joys and hurts that come along with evangelism serve in training us, and our children, in evangelism.
The primary school years offer an open door to evangelise to, and with, children. So grab a hand and take a step forward together; that door won’t be so wide open forever.