October 1, 2004
George Barna, social science researcher and pollster, says he is as surprised as anyone that he has become an impassioned advocate for children and children's ministries. However, his life experiences have prepared him for the role. The father of two daughters, he has coached basketball at a Christian school, taught in public schools, and been a youth leader and elder overseeing education at his church. In 1984, he founded the Barna Research Group, and has since often studied the beliefs and behavior of young people.
In his book Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions: Why Children Should Be Your Church's #1 Priority (Regal Books, 2003) Barna writes, "Social scientists have known for years that the moral foundations of children are generally determined by the time the individual reaches age nine. ... 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 [young]."
Barna's research reveals that 93 percent of young people in the U.S. consider themselves to be Christian by age 13, but the great majority do not connect being a Christian to having a grace-based personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Only three percent have a biblical worldview.
Ninety percent of 13-year-olds say they believe in the existence of God and 80 percent want a close relationship with Him. Conversely, 75 percent believe that Satan is only a symbol, a person earns heaven by his good works, people are born morally neutral, and all religious traditions are equal. More than half believe there are no absolute standards for morality, that Jesus sinned while living on earth, and that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality.
Barna says parents and adult leaders in our churches must cease relegating our children to second-class status. He gives evidence of that charge with these numbers: about 41 percent of those at church on any given weekend are under the age of 18, yet less than 15 percent of church budgets go to youth and children's ministries.
In this book, his primary focus is on children ages 5-12, some 31 million in the U.S. He believes that if we impart to children in that age range a strong faith, we can diminish many of the problems that may later plague their teenage years -- obesity, sexual activity, substance abuse, violence and health care.
Barna says that every decision one makes is ultimately a spiritual decision, thus it is critical to rear children in a context with strong, absolute values based on the Bible.
He believes children should be the primary focus of ministry. He wants to challenge traditional assumptions, promote spiritual development, motivate to action, identify practices of solid ministries to children, and champion a partnership between parents and church. That last item is a theme that threads through the entire volume. Parents, not churches, are primarily responsible for children's spiritual development.
Barna writes, "If we do a great job of training children to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul, then we will no longer have to invest time battling over moral and spiritual issues such as abortion, homosexuality, gambling and pornography."
Boycotting, letters to the FCC, and legislative reform are not bad, he says, "but they fail to address the root of the problem -- people's alienation from God." Everything kids need comes from their worldview, so the challenge is to help them build a biblical worldview.
Transforming Children utilizes a practical and analytical approach that helps the reader grasp the critical need for children's ministries of greater depth. For example, in one chapter, Barna says children need help with four Ps: purpose, perspective, provision and performance. He then addresses each area with no-nonsense principles for parents and church leaders.
Randall Murphree, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. The Barna Group, Ltd. is a full-service marketing research company located in Ventura, California. TBG has been providing information and analysis regarding cultural trends and the Christian Church since 1984.
Barna Research Group (http://www.barna.org)
© 2004 Agape Press.