When are children most open to hearing the Gospel? Does that change? Where do parents need to focus their time? When is the best time to teach your child about Christ?
Where do churches need to focus their programs? Are there particular ages, when we need to be focusing our time and energy when evangelizing the next generation? The research says absolutely, yes!
There is a timeline of faith that guides us in the discipleship of our children. Read through the research and the wisdom of Christian leaders to see this timeline of faith unfold.
Teach Your Child about Christ at Ages 0-4
You need to teach your child about Christ from a young age. It is incredible how young our children start absorbing the Christian faith. Between the ages of 2 and 5, children are warming up very quickly to Jesus and the gospel.
- “Physicians assert that children begin to absorb values as early as two years of age. The highly effective ministries, therefore, start their most serious partnership with parents soon thereafter.” (Barna, TCISC, 100)
- “Many studies confirm that children begin absorbing values and beliefs as soon as they can understand language.” (Barna, Revolutionary Parenting, 38)
Teaching Your Child about Christ at Ages 5-9
This is the most crucial time in your child’s spiritual journey and the BEST time to teach your child about Christ. Sadly, so many churches and families want until children are in their teens to intentionally focus energy on a child’s spiritual development. Ironically, the time between Kindergarten and fourth grade is the most effective time to shape these young hearts and pour into them the truths of the Bible.
These ages are when parents need to begin family devotions if they have not already. It is during these years, where these young readers need to be trained to study the Bible and have a daily quiet time. Teaching your child about Christ begins in the Word. However, you can’t just teach your child about Christ – you have to help them develop a relationship with Jesus! (Discover why Bible study is the key to raising Christians in Major Faith Impact by Doing This 4 Times A Week.) Parents would also do well to teach prayer and worship at this time, as well.
- “Spiritual training of children should begin at their earliest moments of awareness and continue through the teen years. The most important year, however, maybe age five. That is when they are open and tender to the call of Christ.” (Dr. James Jobson, Night Light for Parents)
- “Social scientists have known for years that the moral foundations of children are generally determined by the time the individual reaches age nine. Our research confirms a parallel outcome in the spiritual dimension: By age nine, most children have their spiritual moorings in place.” (Barna, Transforming Children, 47)
Leading Your Child to Jesus at Ages 10-18
When our children get to age ten, not all is lost, but their openness to the gospel is starting to cool down. In the timeline of faith, ages 10-13 are absolutely vital. Children are most open to the gospel between 4-9, but they are still open to it in this crucial next four years.
Parents with this age will need to make sure that they are modeling the Christian walk that they want their children to imitate. This does not mean that we have to be perfect, but we need to be parents who confess our sins and are vulnerable in talking about our faith journey. Faith conversations that support our children as they ask questions and take ownership of their faith are vital at this age. (I have excellent guidance for you on those conversations in The Wesleyan Quadrilateral for Deeper Conversations.)
- “The importance of building strong spiritual foundations at an early age is again confirmed by recognizing that in 2003, there was virtually no difference between the spiritual standing of adults and those existing in their childhood years ….In other words, by the age of 13, your spiritual identity is largely set in place.” (Barna, TCISC, 34)
- “Four-fifths of our senior pastors say their church is doing an excellent or good job of enabling kids to understand and engage in worship. Our studies among kids show that 4 out of every five churched 13-year-olds do not know what worship is, and a substantial majority of them admit that they do not feel they have ever experienced God’s presence.” (Barna, TCIS,123)
- “I have become convinced that the spiritual war occurring in individual lives is pretty much won or lost by the age of thirteen.” (Barna, Revolutionary Parenting, xxi)
Related Content: 3 Powerful Christian Parenting Books for Discipleship
Timeline of Faith for Youth Ages 13-18, 18+
Unfortunately, the idolatry of Youth Group is found in many Christian churches. Parents idolize the role of the youth pastor in shaping the faith lives of their children. However, when we examine the timeline of faith, we see that these young people were most open to the gospel years before! The best thing that parents can do at this age is to encourage and equip their children to engage in Bible study regularly. Get your child in the Word, and let God speak to your child through the Word. Take heart, and do not stop praying for your child.
- “When you construct a plan for introducing your children to Jesus, you may want to make your motto ‘the earlier, the better.’ In a recent nationwide poll, researcher George Barna learned that children ages five through thirteen have a 32 percent probability of accepting Christ as their Savior. That rate drops dramatically, to just 4 percent, for kids age fourteen through eighteen. And those who have not become Christians before age nineteen have only a 6 percent probability of doing so during the rest of their lives!” (Dr. James Dobson, Night Light for Parents)
- “Some studies have shown that as high as 70 percent of young people raised in the church have not embraced the faith as their own by the time they graduate from high school.” (Barna, TCiSC)
How to Effectively Reach & Teach Your Kids about Christ: Advice for Parents
Analyze the staffing at most churches in America, and you would conclude that the most critical time to evangelize youth is in junior and senior high school. Unfortunately, by age 13, most children have made up their minds about Christ. The time to really invest in laying a foundation of faith starts when children are very young. The timeline of faith begins with birth. It burns the hottest at five years of age! The timeline of faith cools off after nine years old, long before high school youth group.
Absolutely, anyone can come to Christ at any time. Experience tells us, however, that there are times that we are more open and receptive to hearing & believing. Early childhood is a vital time for faith development as children are developing a foundational worldview. It is essential that Christian parents thoughtfully lay the foundations for a Christian worldview in word and deed during these years. Wisely, this is the vital way in which we train up a child in the way in which he should go so that when he is old, he will not depart from it.
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
3 John 1:4
If these are the sentiments expressed by an early church leader, how much more so for Christian parents! It should be the highest goal and joy of a Christian parent to see their children confess faith in Christ and live out a faithful life.
Sadly, the numbers tell us a devastatingly different story. Dr. Voddie Baucham reports in his book, Family Driven Faith, says that “it currently takes two Christian families in one generation to get a single Christian into the next generation.”
Great Commission Includes Children & Youth
Four Christians to make one Christian? O, Parents! O, Church! We are not fulfilling the Great Commission with our own children, let alone the rest of the world. We have a daunting task ahead of us. Take heart, though, because by using this timeline of faith, we can pinpoint where to focus our time and energy to turn this ship around and save souls. You must learn how to teach your child about Jesus!
Are you in the trenches with young children and wonder if your time is well spent? Know Mom & Dad that these really are the most precious moments! Invest wisely.
If you are much further on your parenting journey, don’t despair. Don’t dawdle either; it is never too late to get to work. I hope that knowing this timeline of faith will equip our evangelism, at home and in the church, to hit the mark for Christ. The call to teach your child about Jesus is your most important work.
Read the data for yourself in these critical visioning books for parents! These are among the top books that I recommend every Christian parent have on their bookshelf. (I re-read the Revolutionary Parenting book every year!) If you want to know how to focus your energy as a parent in raising kids of faith – you will find your answers in these books!