Imagine your church were to send out two mission teams—one to the Philippines and one to Japan. In this hypothetical scenario, the team from the Philippines came back and reported 100 people had come to faith in Christ, while the team from Japan reported only 3 conversions.
The next year you switch the teams, sending the team that went to the Philippines to Japan and vice versa. Same results. The team that went to the Philippines saw 100 conversions while the team that went to Japan only saw 3. In addition, the team that went to the Philippines reported that 90% of the ones who had professed faith in Christ the year before were still actively walking with Christ, while 2 of the 3 conversions in Japan had drifted from the faith.
Imagine you keep this up for 5 years and see the same results. How long would you keep sending groups of equal size to both countries?
Missiologists have thought about this deeply and the general consensus is that stewardship demands you send most of your resources to the most fruitful areas. You send a few resources to the less fruitful areas to monitor the situation and to pray that things turn around. But, the bulk of missionary resources should go to where the fruit is ripe.
Where is the fruit ripe in your area? Where is the fruit ready for harvest where you live? I can tell you. I have done the research. I can give it to you in two words:
The vast majority of people who come to faith in Christ do so before they leave their teenage years. Churches that want to be good stewards of the resources that have prioritize young people. Preschoolers. Children. Youth. College students. Young adults. This is the target. If we don’t reach them by the time they turn 30, the odds are we will never reach them. Stewardship demands that we try to reach the reachable.
96% of people who ever come to faith do so before they reach 30. Let that sink in.
This highlights one of the great difference between Sunday School and Home Groups.
The great problem in home groups is the kids. What do you do with the kids? I have had a 100 conversations about this and have never heard a very good answer. In some cases, there is tragedy. In home group world, kids are a problem to be solved and rarely do people solve the problem well.
In contrast, in Sunday School, children are the focus of the ministry. We focus the bulk of our resources toward the most reachable group: kids.
In case you are rusty on the history of Sunday School, here is how it all began:
in 1780 by printer, newspaper editor, and businessman Robert Raikes (1735–1811). Raikes saw the desperate need of the low-income children working in factories from sunrise to sunset. He sought to meet their physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs through Bible teaching. It was his conviction that the parents of these children were “totally abandoned themselves, having no idea of instilling into the minds of their children principles to which they themselves were entire strangers.”
“The world marches forth on the feet of little children,” Raikes once remarked. He believed that society, and the prison population, for that matter, could be changed by reaching the children with the gospel. He fed, clothed, educated, and trained hundreds of children on Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. His basic foundation was to teach students to read the Word of God. The Sunday school gave an open Bible to the children. In time, transformation of these children was dramatic and radical. Children discontinued their swearing and cursing. The crime rate dropped in Raikes’s hometown and county. In 1786, “the magistrates of the area passed a unanimous vote of thanks for the impact Robert Raikes and his Sunday school had upon the morals of the youth of that area.” — Towns, Elmer L., and Vernon M. Whaley. 2012. Worship through the Ages: How the Great Awakening Shape Evangelical Worship. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic.
Churches that want to turn around the great dechurching of America would do well to go after the reachable: kids.
If you teach an adult group, you do well to remind your people often: children are the most reachable people in society. If you want to serve the Lord, consider first serving with kids.
Every church I know needs more workers with kids. More workers with youth. More workers with preschoolers. More workers with children. If you work with adults, you do well to emphasize this often.
Churches that are reaching kids invest heavily in it. They build play places that cost real money. Their preschool areas don’t smell like a dirty diaper. They have strict policies in place to insure there is no possibility for abuse. Their workers are well trained, carefully selected, and well-equipped. They are top notch. They send their best people to the most reachable group: kids.
I will be exploring this in more detail in a first-ever conference on The Enduing, Unchanging Principles of Evangelism. Watch for details.
Addressing the Dechurching of America:
Simple as this is, I think it will take a while to get there. Here is what I suggest. Every year, starting in January or August, do a church-wide study of evangelism. (You might consider a sermon series to go along with the study.)
Year #1, Study BLESS: 5 Everyday Ways to Love Your Neighbor and Change the World, Dave Ferguson
Year #2: How to Talk about Jesus (Without Being That Guy): Personal Evangelism in a Skeptical World by Sam Chan.
Year #3: Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael frost
Each of these studies is about six weeks and are available on Amazon or as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription system. www.MyBibleStudyLessons.com
During the rest of the year, I recommend you spend five or ten minutes each week in each group talking about such questions as:
Who are you praying for that is far from God?
Who have you had the opportunity to listen to this week about their walk with God? What have we learned about why people are leaving church?
Did you share a meal with anyone this week who was far from God?
What service project could we do to “let our light so shine before others that they would see our good works and glorify our father in Heaven”?
In addition, I’d encourage each group to host a fellowship every month and invite every member and every prospect. For more on this, see https://www.YouCanDouble.com/
I close with a quote from the last book above:
As should be obvious by now, I’m not merely promoting these five practices as a one-off program. I want you to make a habit of them. I want you to inculcate these habits as a central rhythm of your life. You see, doing a short-term project, like Forty Days of Purpose, is great. But missional effectiveness grows exponentially the longer we embrace these habits and the deeper we go with them. — Frost, Michael. 2016. Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.