Child evangelism movement

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The child evangelism movement is an United States Christian evangelism movement that was begun in 1937 by Jesse Irvin Overholtzer who founded the Christian organization Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF). It focuses on the 4/14 window which centers on evangelizing children between the ages of 4 and 14 years.[1] Children are targeted because they are the "most receptive, but also because they are often the most effective agents for mission" to evangelize their peer group. Groups supporting the evangelization initiative have argued that "It is crucial that mission efforts be reprioritized and re-directed toward the 4/14 age group world-wide"[2]


Age at conversion (1996)[3]
Before age 6 6%
Ages 6–9 24%
Ages 10–12 26%
Ages 13–14 15%
Ages 15–19 10%
Ages 20 and over 19%

A study conducted in 1995–1996 survey commissioned by the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary found that 71% of Christians in the US converted before the age of 14.[3]

In 2003 George Barna published the results of his research, showing that children are the most important population segment to minister to because of their spiritual teachability and developmental vulnerability. Barna argued that a child's moral development is set by the age of nine, while churches focus on older children.[4] Barna wrote that "Habits related to the practice of one’s faith develop when one is young and change surprisingly little over time.” and “the older a child gets, the more distracted and vulnerable he or she becomes to nonfamily influences."[5] Barna found in 2004 that children converted to Christianity before their teen years are more likely to remain "absolutely committed" to Christianity.[6] Barna stated "It is during those [pre-teen] years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life." He later stated "The early impressions we make go a long way toward shaping a person’s worldview, relationships, dreams, expectations, and core reality."[7]

Bryant Myers and Dan Brewster have used Barna's research to argue that global evangelism programs should target younger children for conversion. “The implication of these findings is clear,” says Barna. “Anyone who wishes to have significant influence on the development of a person’s moral and spiritual foundations had better exert that influence while the person is still open-minded and impressionable – in other words, while the person is still young.” The Christian relief organization World Vision has declared that the child evangelism movement is a very important evangelism movement in the 21st century.[8]

Dan Brewster argues that children should be targeted for evangelism because the "clay is still soft" and argued "Children need our attention more urgently than any other group of people"[9]

4/14 window[edit]

In April 1994, Christian children's ministry leaders from 54 organizations gathered for a two-day conference which focused on ways to evangelize children between the ages of 4 and 14. Awana Clubs International, which has trained leaders who head clubs in 10,000 U.S. churches, hosted gathering at its Streamwood, Illinois, headquarters. Christianity Today International along with six other groups co-sponsored the gathering.[10]

The 4/14 window was originally conceived by Bryant Myers of World Vision and later popularized by Christian missionary strategist Luis Bush who also coined the term 10/40 window. The 4/14 window is a global Christian mission movement focused on evangelizing children between the ages of 4 and 14 years old.[2] Bush commented in the Christian Post in 2009 that "Mission strategies developed for the 4/14 Window would be implemented by parents, pastors and other role model figures who play key roles in shaping a child’s worldview."[11]

In 2004, at the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization in Thailand, a group of Christian evangelists examined the state of evangelism among children. The Lausanne committee published a paper arguing that evangelists should target children under 14 in the global South for conversion, and created the Aim Lower movement.[12][13][14]

In 2005, Dan Brewster, a director of World Vision, indicated that the 10/40 window is a vital Christian mission opportunity developed in the 20th century and the 4/14 window is a Christian mission opportunity in the 21st century which may be just as important.[8] Brewster argued that "The poor and exploited tend to be much more receptive to the Gospel" and that children and young people should be targeted in areas where disease, poverty and conflict have disrupted their lives. The paper included basic ethical considerations, such as not evangelising children without parental consent, or where their families are entirely dependent on Christian charities for financial or material support, or in a way that disparages their local culture.


Proponents of the 4/14 window encourage children from the age of four to be converted to Christianity. Evangelists often use techniques such as a Wordless Book to communicate religious concepts to children too young to read. Critics of this practice charge that children too young to read for themselves are too young to be able to make informed, independent decisions about religion. Some Christian authors are critical of the use of altar calls.[15] Some theologians argue that altar calls may give converts a false understanding of religious salvation.[16] Theologian Randal Rauser has criticized the practice of “conversionism,” which emphasizes immediate change in religion, rather than a gradual transformation of life and belief. He has also criticized the targeting of young children, who can be "easily manipulated" into confessing belief in things they don't understand to please adults.[17]

The Roman Catholic Church maintains that children do not have moral responsibility before the Age of Reason, usually given as seven years old. In Latin Rite Catholicism, the sacraments of Eucharist and Confirmation are only given to children who have the use of reason, and Holy Communion may be administered to children only if "they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the Body of Christ with faith and devotion."[18] Despite this, child evangelism advocates argue that children aged 3–6, who have only a rudimentary conception of right and wrong spelled out by their parents, should be evangelised.[19]

Many Protestants have expressed concern that young converts grow up to have a false understanding of the religion, and that widespread secularisation of Europe and North America is the product of false conversions in childhood.[20][21] John F. MacArthur has been critical of evangelists coercing a profession of faith from children, especially when the evangelist oversimplifies parts of the religion in order to get a large number of children to "convert" in response to a formulaic presentation that is light on details.[22]

In the 19th century, the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued that teaching some ideas to children at a young age could foster resistance to doubting those ideas later on.[23]

In her 2012 book The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children, journalist Katherine Stewart criticizes various practices of the 'Good News Club' after-school Bible study program, including young participants being rewarded for recruiting friends of other faiths and denominations whose parents have not enrolled them in the program. She argues that children in schools are encouraged to bully children who don't share their faith.[24] Katherine Stewart has criticised the efforts of politically conservative biblical literalists to convert young children to forms of Christian belief that advocate a literal reading of violent Old Testament narratives. She argued in an article in The Guardian that biblical literalists teach children that they should read from the Old Testament in order to understand divinely-ordered extermination of the Amalekites, is used to justify genocide.[25][26][27] In response, the Childhood Evangelism Foundation stated that they encouraged a literal reading of the extermination of the Amalekites, but do not encourage children to view it as an endorsement of historical or current genocides.[28]

Further reading[edit]

  • One Generation from Extinction: How The Church Connects with the Unchurched Child By Mark Griffiths, Monarch Books, 2009, ISBN 1854249290
  • A modern weeping prophet : history of the Child Evangelism movement up to April 1940. Written as of 1947 by J. Irvin Overholtzer, Publisher: Pacific Palisades, Calif. : International Child Evangelism Fellowship, 1953.[29]
  • The 4/14 Window: Raising Up a New Generation to Transform the World by Luis Bush (Author), Wess Stafford (Foreword), September 1, 2009
  • 4/14 movement articles
  • 4/14 movement videos
  • 7 Reasons Why I believe the 4/14 Window is our Priority Missional Focus to Transform the World by Luis Bush

History of the 4/14 movement:


  1. ^ Luis Bush (June 18, 2013). "4/14 Window - a Golden Age of Opportunity" (PDF). 4/14 Movement. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 14, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Luis Bush (18 June 2013). "Raising Up a New Generation from the 4-14 Window to Transform the World" (PDF). 4/14 Movement. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 October 2013.
  3. ^ a b Thom Rainer (December 19, 1997). "The Great Commission to Reach a New Generation" (PDF). Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-12-24. Retrieved 2014-05-24.
  4. ^ Noel B. Woodbridge (2003). "Review of George Barna, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 May 2018. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  5. ^ David Mays. "Book notes - TRANSFORMING CHILDREN INTO SPIRITUAL CHAMPIONS". Archived from the original on 2014-05-23. Retrieved 2014-05-23.
  6. ^ "Evangelism Is Most Effective Among Kids". Barna Research. October 11, 2004. Archived from the original on May 23, 2014. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  7. ^ George Barna (May 13, 2010). "Leaving a Mark". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Dan Brewster (August 2005). "THE "4/14 WINDOW" - Child Ministries and Mission Strategies" (PDF). Compassion International.
  9. ^ Dan Brewster (2011). "Child, Church & Mission Revised Edition" (PDF). Compassion International.
  10. ^ "The 4-14 Window New push on child evangelism targets the crucial early years. By John W. Kennedy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-28. Retrieved 2013-10-13.
  11. ^ "Mission Strategist: New Focus Should be on 4/14 Window By Michelle A. Vu, Christian Post Reporter September 9, 2009". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved May 23, 2014.
  12. ^ "lausanne LOP47 2004" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2013-10-21. Retrieved 2013-10-13.
  13. ^ Evangelism among Children - Lousanne Forum
  14. ^ "Aim Lower". Archived from the original on 2014-05-23. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  15. ^ "1". Archived from the original on 2008-10-30. Retrieved 2019-10-04.
  16. ^ Laurence A. Justice. "Why We Don't Use The Altar Call". Victory Baptist Church. Archived from the original on 2014-03-28.
  17. ^ Randal Rauser (28 March 2014). "Fundraising and the ethics of child evangelism". Archived from the original on 2014-05-20. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  18. ^ "How did the Church decided that seven is the age of reason and the age for First Communion?". Archived from the original on 2016-11-17. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  19. ^ Alan S Wong (September 2011). "A Defence of Child Evangelism". Archived from the original on 20 February 2015. child aged 3-6 years begins to develop a rudimentary conscience with concepts of "right" and "wrong" as spelt out by his parents. Therefore, the Gospel should be presented to children at an early age around 3-6 years.
  20. ^ Kent Allan Philpott. "Are You Really Born Again? - How False Conversions Occur". Archived from the original on 2014-08-28. Retrieved 2014-05-20. As a child, I “accepted” Jesus many times. I remember Mrs. B, who conducted vacation Bible schools every summer in the Portland, Oregon, neighborhood where I grew up. She was a large person with a big voice and aggressive ways. She would gather up the children and take us to her house for Bible stories, songs, biscuits, and a fizzy drink. I recall the black, red, and white felt hearts displayed on the flannel boards she had set up in her living room—one felt heart laid on top of the next. First, there was the black heart, the sinful heart which we did not want, since we could not go to heaven with a black heart. Next, there was the red heart, which was formerly the black heart, but now it was coated with the blood of Jesus. Then there was the white heart, the one we wanted, since we could not go to heaven and be with Jesus unless we had a white heart. There was not one child who did not want a white heart, so we prayed to be washed in the blood of Jesus. Mrs. B made sure every one of us prayed; every summer my brothers and I would pray for a white heart so we could go to heaven. I believe what my brothers and I experienced were introjections rather than conversions. Introjections occur when someone, in the presence of a powerful person or group, feels very anxious and reduces his anxiety by conforming to the expectations of that person or group. He does not realize that his new beliefs are motivated by an unconscious desire to relieve the tension produced by anxiety. Mrs. B wanted to make sure we would go to heaven—so she scared the wits out of us! If we did not have a white heart we would go to hell. As children, we were scared not only that we would disappoint Mrs. B but that we would also burn in the devil’s hell. As a result, she racked up a good number of “conversions.”
  21. ^ "'The leavers' - Kent Philpott". Evangelical Times. As a pastor, I was very good at getting confessions of faith out of kids. At Bible camps, I could get every boy and girl up front praying the sinner's prayer. What about those kids later on, when they got to be 20- and 30-somethings? Might some of them have walked away from Christianity, to be counted among the de-converted? They had been told as children that they were now Christians and needed only to be baptised and join the church. Many did, and some may have been genuinely converted, but I suspect many were not. They must walk away at some point, for to be in a church in their state would be uncomfortable at best.
  22. ^ "Common Pitfalls in Evangelizing Children". Grace community church. 2004. Archived from the original on 2016-11-20. Retrieved 2019-01-13.
  23. ^ "And as the capacity for believing is strongest in childhood, special care is taken to make sure of this tender age. This has much more to do with the doctrines of belief taking root than threats and reports of miracles. If, in early childhood, certain fundamental views and doctrines are paraded with unusual solemnity, and an air of the greatest earnestness never before visible in anything else; if, at the same time, the possibility of a doubt about them be completely passed over, or touched upon only to indicate that doubt is the first step to eternal perdition, the resulting impression will be so deep that, as a rule, that is, in almost every case, doubt about them will be almost as impossible as doubt about one's own existence."- Arthur Schopenhauer -On Religion: A Dialogue
  24. ^ Beth Hawkins (22 June 2012). "Katherine Stewart: How Christian clubs in schools turned into faith-based bullying". MinnPost. Archived from the original on 2014-05-20. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  25. ^ Katherine Stewart (Mar 12, 2013). "Do Evangelical Kids' Clubs Deserve Freedom of Speech in Public Schools?". The Atlantic.
  26. ^ Pongracz, Linda (2011). David: A Man After God's Heart. CEF Press. Archived from the original on 2012-06-02. Retrieved 2012-05-15.
  27. ^ Stewart, Katherine (2012-05-30). "How Christian fundamentalists plan to teach genocide to schoolchildren". London: The Guardian (UK). Archived from the original on 2013-10-12. Retrieved 2012-06-13.
  28. ^ Kauffman, Reese (2012-06-11). "The proper teaching of the story of Saul and the Amalekites". London: The Guardian (UK). Archived from the original on 2014-05-21. Retrieved 2012-06-11.
  29. ^ "Worldcat - A modern weeping prophet : history of the Child Evangelism movement up to April 1940. Written as of 1947 by J. Irvin Overholtzer". Archived from the original on 2016-04-04. Retrieved 2013-10-13.