Why The Numbers Don’t Add Up
Numbers, numbers, numbers. Much of the kids’ ministry conversation is framed within the context of numbers. To get idea of how to understand someone’s ministry, we ask, “How many kids come on Sunday morning?” And we keep going. We talk about the number of baptisms, how many kids attend VBS, and how many new babies are being born. Everything from staffing ratios to the number of sippy cups in our building has a numerical value that can be discussed.
I am very thankful for numbers. Statistics offer all kinds of insights into kids’ ministry. They reveal strengths and weakness; they help us predict trends; and they help us plan for the future. I for one have spent a good deal of time expanding the amount of data that FBCE’s children’s ministry collects for these reasons and more. Numbers are great.
But numbers can also be deadly. They can shift our focus from eternity to our own immediacy. Anytime we get a group of kids’ ministry staffer and volunteers together, we will almost always get into a conversation about evangelism. Someone will start talking about how 50 kids got saved at their VBS. And as they praise God, we begin to wonder why only one kid got saved at our church this past summer. We question our methods and skills, wondering if more music or if better crafts would lead to more conversions. We begin to make evangelism about on numbers instead of the gospel.
At the end of the day, this is a huge problem. Focusing on numbers will not lead to more conversions, because we cannot save anyone. We do not lead people to Christ with just the right blend of music, crafts, and timely themed gospel messages. As the great preacher J.I. Packer said,
Can you or I by our earnest talking break the power of Satan over a man’s life? No. Can you or I give life to the spiritually dead? No. Can we hope to convince sinners of the truth of the gospel by patient explanation? No. Can we hope to move men to obey the gospel by any words of entreaty that we may utter? No. Our approach to evangelism is not realistic till we have faced this shattering face and let it make its proper impact on us. – p106.
Evangelism cannot succeed apart from God. As the Scriptures say, ‘“Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). Salvation is work of God. We must never forget this central and fundemental truth.
Our job is not to save. Our job is to faithfully introduce kids to the wonders of the Scriptures. To do this well, we will have to teach hard truths starting with Genesis and ending with revelation. And, we will have to love our kids for more than a week here or there. We will have to spend time with them. We will have to play on the playground with them; we will have to listen to their concerns, and we will have to pray with them.
“The right to talk to another person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and that you really care about him” – p81.
We will have to invest time and energy into our kids ministry if we want to see kids saved.
Are their shortcuts? Yes. For example, we can have everyone bow their heads and then have those ‘interested in the gospel’ raise their hands. After telling them that Jesus will ‘save you from their sins’ we can then pray a prayer of repentance for the kids and pronounce them saved. Our numbers will look great. \
But, they will not add up. Because these kids have not understood the gravity of their sin and the beauty of Jesus, they have not embraced Jesus. If anything they have simply been brainwashed and can be easily convinced to leave the faith by the next well-spoken person they meet.
At the end of the day, we cannot hop over the wall of graces and save others with our human efforts. Though we all long for numbers, we must not let the success of one church lead us into a panic. That church has not excelled not at our expense.
Rather, we should praise God for working, realizing that that work did not happen over night. And then, we must redouble our commitment to the gospel. After all, evangelism “is a work in which quick results are not promised; it is a work, therefore, in which the non-appearance of quick results is no sign of failure; but it is a work in which we cannot hope for success unless we are prepared to persevere with people.”