I'm a Cradle Christian. I was taught when I was very young that
I should ask Jesus into my life, so I did. In a refugee camp in
Hong Kong, I made a faith decision…and that day wasn't any
different from other days.
After that, I learned all the Bible stories. I prayed before
every meal, at bedtime, when people I knew were sick, or when
tragedy struck. I did everything a good Christian ought to do (and
stayed away from things good Christians ought not do). I did all
this because it's what I was taught in the loving Christian home I
was born and raised in.
I was filling the mold my family shaped for me. My Christian
faith consisted of going through the motions with very little
meaning. It's the faith I've known all my life, never my own --
always my parents' -- until college when I began to own my faith as
Cradle Christians in Your Ministry
Here's a quick quiz for you. The word "cradle" means: (a) a
baby's small bed, (b) the earliest period of one's life, or (c) the
place of a thing's beginning or early development. Do you have your
It's all three, according to Webster's. So we've defined
Cradle-Christian kids as children who, from the earliest period in
their lives, have had a basis in Christianity. They've been
immersed in a faith-based family. They've known about Jesus all
their lives. And they've made a faith decision at a very early age
(some probably don't even remember it).
So if they already have a relationship with Jesus, what's the
According to the Barna Research Group, 71 percent of American
adults attended church regularly as children, but only 43 percent
of American adults attend church now. And of that 71 percent who
attended church as children, only two out of three take their
children to church. What's not working here?
In Luke 15:11-32, Jesus tells a story of two sons. One son is
lost; he squanders his riches and returns to his father begging for
mercy. The other son has been with his father all his life; he
works diligently as he obeys his father.
When the lost son finally returns and the father throws a huge
party for him, what happens with the good son who always obeys? He
turns angry and jealous. Check out what happens in Luke
Jesus used this parable to teach us compassion for people far
from God -- to celebrate new Christians being "found" in God's
family. But every time I explore that parable, I wonder what
happened to that "good son." Did he continue obeying his father? Or
did he get bored with the same routine, never really developing
anything deeper? Did he ever experience the grace his brother
Then I think about the children who've been Christians all their
lives. Do they get bored? Are they given an opportunity to
experience God's grace like those who have a major turning point in
Characteristics of Cradle-Christian Kids
My first Sunday school teaching experience was in a sixth-grade
class. Among the children in the class were three Cradle-Christian
kids: Kyle, Austin, and Jacob. Each week I worked diligently to
plan a lesson from which the class would glean great knowledge and
biblical understanding. Then I'd present my prepared lesson with
one-of-a-kind energy and excitement.
Somehow, though, these three would still manage to get me down.
Kyle moped, throwing out negative comments here and there, such as,
"I don't wanna do that," and "That's stupid." Austin didn't really
like to get involved either, but he had a goal to see how much he
could stay out of his seat. And Jacob sat quietly, participating
only when there was no other way out for him. I'd often find him
distracted and off-task.
As I continued my ministry out of high school, through college,
and into my adult years, I noticed that those same characteristics
continued to pop up in the same types of kids -- kids whose parents
were leaders in the church, those who came from good Christian
backgrounds, and children whose families were highly involved.
Let's take a look at the three classic characteristics of
Expressing "I Don't Care" -- Cheryl Wong, a
children's pastor in Loveland, Colorado, says of kids who've been
raised in the church, "They have an I-don't-care attitude. They're
the ones who complain, 'Why do we have to do this again?' and 'This
is stupid.' "
This is the most common characteristic in Cradle-Christian kids.
They attend your ministry event or class, but they don't care to
participate because "it's stupid."
Wong explains that this attitude can also be contagious. Kids
who usually participate willingly and with enthusiasm in the
activities you've planned will begin to be infected by the negative
attitude. Allowing this attitude to continue in a ministry can be
Acting Out With Distracting Behavior -- When a
child loses interest, he or she will often choose to make the
activity more interesting for him- or herself by acting out and
"You find yourself having to deal with more discipline
problems," says Wong of Cradle-Christian kids' distractions. It
causes you, the leader, to lose focus on the lesson or activity and
redirect your attention to the child who's using the drop ceiling
as monkey bars.
Not Wanting to Be There -- Many
Cradle-Christian kids are expected to follow their parents without
ever being given an opportunity to know why they believe or to
experience their own faith. Wong says, "It goes back to parents.
They teach their kids, 'This is what we do; we go to church.' " But
they never clearly explain why.
Those attitudes and feelings of duty don't help children
experience God and build a relationship with Jesus. Rather,
Cradle-Christian kids view church (and worship) more as
responsibilities than privileges.
Daily Bread Gone Stale As Christian adults, we know that God's
Word withstands the test of time and culture. It'll never become
stale or outdated. But it may seem stale for kids who've been
around it all their lives, never experiencing something new.
"Kids are growing bored," says Carol Taylor, a children's pastor
in Anderson, Indiana, and a pastor's kid herself. "The attitude of
many kids who have grown up in Christian homes is, 'I've heard it.
Why should I pay attention?' We have to get past that," she
Watch out for these stale-makers in your ministry.
Routine -- We often force children into a
routine, not really allowing them to truly experience a
relationship with Jesus. Does this prayer sound familiar? "Dear
Jesus, thank you for this food. Thank you for today. Help us have a
good day today. Be with Aunt Sue in the hospital. In Jesus' name,
amen." I know it was the way I prayed for so many of my growing up
Here's a true test for you to see the impact of routine in
Cradle-Christian kids' lives. Ask them these three questions: Why
do you go to church? How do you worship God? When do you pray? You
may be surprised (or perhaps not) at the responses to these
questions. The routine in their lives will be evident.
Inoculation -- Consider the last time you went
to the doctor for a flu shot. The point of your visit was to get
inoculated against the flu. You received a weak dose of the virus
so the real thing didn't have as much of an impact on you. It's
usually quite effective in weakening our experience with such a
In the same way, when kids come into our ministries and receive
only a weak dose of God's Word, we're effectively inoculating them
against a true experience with God's amazing power and love. We
often tend to produce the same material over and over, rather than
creating for kids a new experience with the living God.
Fresh Daily Bread The Daily Bread hasn't gone stale, but it's up
to us to make it fresh for kids who can lose interest quickly. Try
these practical ideas to create a fresh learning environment for
Cradle Christians in your ministry.
Service -- Opportunities for service are sure
to take kids out of their routine. Responsibility and leadership
are key to getting kids out of the ho-hum routine they find
themselves in. Taylor encourages other children's ministers to get
kids serving even at young ages. She says, "We don't let kids serve
in the church early enough."
Try these service avenues:
- Worship Teams -- Getting kids leading their
peers will dig into their character and allow kids to use the
spiritual gifts God has given them.
- Special Classes -- Wong suggests offering a
special class to dig deeper into the stories kids know so well.
Even better: Have kids help prepare and teach the lessons! "They
know the story of Moses, but they may not know that Moses was
scared and lonely. This gives kids something to connect to," Wong
- Ministries -- Help kids find places they can
serve in your church, even in your ministry. Whether it's nursery
care, home-bound meal delivery, or ushering, kids can do it!
Relationship With God -- Cradle-Christians have
trouble remembering a time they experienced God's grace and
relationship. They became Christians because "it's what we do."
"They need to be taken back to when they experienced God," Wong
says. Here's how.
- Remember When -- Wong suggests having a
remembering session. Sit down with the kids and discuss when they
remember feeling God's protection, God's love, and a friendship
with the Lord.
- Journaling -- Have kids write about their
relationship with God. Taylor remembers a time she'd write notes to
her daughter in a journal. "Our relationship grew so close as a
result of that," she says. Have kids talk to God, too, in their
- Mentoring -- Encourage Cradle Christians to
talk to younger children about their relationships with God. This
is sure to create a fresh experience.
Family Ministry -- The Barna Research Group
reports that 85 percent of parents believe they have the
responsibility of spiritual growth in their children. Suggest these
ideas to your faithful churchgoing families.
- Change the routine. Families can do a devotion
at different times, serve together in a church ministry, or list
prayer requests before a prayer. The key is to do things in new
- Get out of a rut. Have families make going to
church a fun outing with a special breakfast beforehand or a lunch
afterward. Families could all wear the same color, or they could
challenge one another to see who can name the most people they
talked to that morning. Have families realize together that church
- Talk more. Encourage families to talk about
why Jesus is important to them and to share ways they've seen God
at work in their lives daily.
We need to have a heart for all the prodigals who need Jesus in
our ministries, but we must never lose sight of the "good sons" who
need us to make God's Word fresh for them every week. That way they
can also experience the celebration of being in God's presence all
of their lives!
Scott Kinner is associate editor of Group Publishing's
KidsOwn Worship and FaithWeaver Bible Curriculum in Loveland,
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