There is no Plan B – why the church must help children disciple other children

At the 4/14 Global Summit in New York in 2010, Reverend C.B. Samuel of India indicated that our Christian teens are in need of ideals—a cause worth living for and dying for—but the church is giving them more and more entertainment instead. What is the real solution?

This article draws from There is no Plan B – a document sponsored by the 4-14 movement and Compassion International.

Erikson’s Theory of Psychological Development postulates a significant shift in development when one reaches adolescence (11-18 years old). Preceding adolescence, development depends on what is done to a person; at adolescence, development depends primarily upon what a person does. At this stage, adolescents begin to develop strong affiliation and devotion to ideals, causes and friends.

Recent Barna Group research on reasons why young Christians leave church focused on those who were regular churchgoers during their early teens and explored their reasons for disconnection from church life after age 15. The research revealed that the number one reason our youth leave church is because “churches seem overprotective.”

At the 4/14 Global Summit in New York in 2010, Reverend C.B. Samuel of India indicated that our Christian teens are in need of ideals—a cause worth living for and dying for—but the church is giving them more and more entertainment instead. Churches thought that teens left the church because of the Xbox and the varied entertainment available to them, so, to compete, more resources were invested on entertainment only to discover that the exodus continued. What children and youth need is a personal connection with high ideals, causes and worthy challenges; to be a force they believe can change the world.

Just recently, Catholic Marawi Bishop Edwin de la Peña of San Juan, Philippines, urged children and youth to actively participate in the missionary endeavors of the church:
You young people and children have the energy, enthusiasm, courage and the ability to take the risk to step forward and say, ‘we want to be in that boat also; we want to be with Jesus and respond to the challenge of mission,’ said de la Peña, who is also chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Mission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines. The prelate also told the youth that as the future of the nation, this is the right time for them to take the opportunity to engage actively in the mission of the Church. (CBCP News, Monday, February 11, 2013)379.

Kingdom Stewardship: Neglecting the Greater Harvest
Dr. Bryant Myers’ statement that nearly 85 percent of people who make a decision for Christ in the U.S. do so between the ages of 4 and 1438 has largely been validated by George Barna’s book Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions.39 While global research concerning this trend is not available, Dan Brewster has been able to confirm similar trends in other parts of the world.
In the 1990’s, a survey was conducted with hundreds of varying groups of Christians who came from non-Christian backgrounds. At least 70 percent of those surveyed indicated that Christian friends or peers were the most ‘significant others’ who introduced them to Christianity.

The research from Myers, the Barna Group, and Brewster all point us to one conclusion. The high level of receptivity to the Christian faith among children combined with the significant role that peers play in introducing non-Christians to Christ, make children and adolescents (the 4/14ers) the most significant source for missions in the past many decades.

Singlehurst claims that the first few months and years of our Christian journey are the most productive years for mission. When we first convert, we have non- Christian friends and significant opportunities to share the “Truth” with them. However, after a few short years, we are drawn into the Christian subculture and have fewer and fewer non-Christian friends. Conversions occur at the rate of 70 percent between the ages of 4 and 14. If newly converted children and teenagers are not encouraged to share their faith with their friends until they reach adulthood (18 years or older)—a time when they have fewer non-Christian friends–then the church has unintentionally wasted years of disciple-making productivity.

I AM My Brother’s Keeper
The Church lost many young people as they entered college life simply because they were not given the opportunity to grow in a disciple-making journey during their teen years; and they were not encouraged or given the chance to disciple others and help others grow into Christlikeness.

The only way to save this generation is to engage them in the disciple-making process, and partner with them in ministering within their communities. Today, youth and teenagers are waiting to be inspired, challenged and enabled to be used by God in helping their peers (brothers and sisters) to grow into Christlikeness, and, through this disciple-making journey, transform families and communities.

The spread of sin began with “selfishness” (“Am I my brother keeper?” – Gen. 4:9). At the very core of the disciple-making process is agape love- selfless love, which stops the “spread” of sin through “selflessness” (“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” – Jn. 13:1; also 1 Jn. 3:16).

If local churches around the world begin to inspire, challenge and enable every 11 year old and older to become their brother’s/sister’s keeper by holistically helping their peers to become better people who are becoming more like Christ, and would commit to praying for them and caring for them, then it will help contain the spread of sin, and the glory of God will shine in the community through our children and youth.