A recent eye-opening experience led me to a
surprising, shocking conclusion: Most of us, when it comes right
down to it, really aren’t comfortable having children follow
Hold on; let me explain.
Last spring as I was preparing to present a workshop at the
Conspire Conference, I reviewed the book unChristian by David
Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Their research revealed that Millennials
(people born between 1980 and 2000) are less likely to return to
church after starting families because they perceive churches as
promoting bigotry. Young parents are actually keeping their
children away from church to protect them from becoming intolerant
After presenting that information at the workshop, I attempted to
lead a brainstorming session about what a new children’s ministry
curriculum might look like: one that teaches children to hold true
to scriptural standards while loving and welcoming people who don’t
think or believe as they do.
I wasn’t prepared for the vocal reaction I received from some
workshop attendees. Several children’s ministers questioned whether
it was a good idea to encourage elementary-age children to befriend
kids who behave badly or are of different faiths. They raised the
possibility that we’re risking the good character and growing faith
of Christian children by exposing them to unchurched kids. One
children’s pastor even asked if we could teach children to love
their classmates without befriending them (in a word, the answer is
We never did outline what a new curriculum would look like.
Instead, we debated whether Jesus ever intended children to
participate in his Great Commission.
I’m not telling this story to have the last word in that debate.
I’m merely sharing the moment when I realized that many children’s
ministries have subtly adopted agendas that are different from
God’s. If we’re truly working to raise a new generation of
Christ-followers, then our instructional aim must be teaching
children to be in a relationship with Jesus that overflows with
love toward others, not to merely be religious.
Here are three specific ways we “inoculate” kids against the Great
We “Incentivize” Inviting
Many churches use a token economy to encourage children to bring
people to church. Children receive rewards or chances to win a
large prize each time they bring along friends. In the short term,
this seems like an effective strategy: Kids will invite unchurched
friends more often, attendance numbers will grow, you’ll win favor
in the eyes of your senior pastor, and so on.
But these programs actually diminish children’s interest in
evangelism. They aren’t learning to love their neighbors or to view
them as being important to God. Instead, children’s eyes are on the
bicycle they could win if they bring enough friends to the
evangelistic rally. Plus, they get the message that sharing faith
is painful or unnatural. If it were easy, the children’s pastor
wouldn’t be bribing me with a bike, kids reason.