We surveyed 400 children’s ministry leaders and analyzed the latest research. Here’s what we learned.
Jesus loves the little ones – that’s why we love to serve in children’s ministry. Every person (no matter their age) was created to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s the most pressing need in this life. It’s also the goal of everything we do in our children’s ministry.
This report is a closer look at when and how a people are most likely to come to Christ. I’ve been digging into all the old research, talking to church leaders, and polling our readers for fresh insights.
2019 Children’s Ministry Statistics: 5 Key Findings
- Childhood is when most people find Jesus
- Parents have the most impact
- Children’s Ministry matters
- We serve because Jesus loves kids
- We need one another
What follows is our up-to-date look at the state of children’s ministry – with special attention to how kids are coming to Christ.
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Founder of Ministry-To-Children.com
Tony Kummer is the founder and editor of Ministry-To-Children. He is a graduate of Boyce College (BA 2003) and holds a Master of Arts from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MA in Children Education, 2008). As an ordained pastor, he served in full-time children’s ministry for 10 years before following a call to international mission work.
#1 Childhood is when most people find Jesus.
Childhood conversion is the “normal” way people come to Christ.
No matter who does the survey, one fact is overwhelming. Once a person reaches adulthood, accepting Christ becomes increasingly rare. Evangelism is most effective in the childhood and teenage years.
- 2/3 of Christians came to faith before the age of 18.
- 43% came to Christ before the age 12.
- Less than 1/4 of current believers came to Christ after the age 21. 
This type of data has been confirmed time and again. Researchers describe childhood as a life stage when people are most open to the Gospel. This has led to a missiological focus on children aged 4 to 14: to win a people group to Christ, begin with the children.  
Here’s what we found when we ask our readers, “At what age did you accept Christ?”
Our survey is very different from the Barna Group and others. We asked a group who are active in ministry as adults.
Other research has asked a broad audience, who claim to know Christ, regardless of church attendance or any other factor.
Our results were very close, within the margin of error for similar questions.
What happens when kids miss this window?
The Barna Group research is a wakeup call – only 1/4 of all believers converted after age 21. By his measure, adult conversion is rare.
We could spend hours debating the reasons, but we must not miss the simple truth. The normal way people come to Jesus is when they are young.
Children need to hear the Gospel and be challenged to respond with a faith decision for Christ.
As Steve Chang recently wrote in an article for the Gospel Coalition.
One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen among those who have a heart for the lost is that they don’t see the children in their own church as lost. Every child, even the cute ones in our Sunday schools, needs the gospel. Our goal is not just to get the children into church, but into Christ. So if the church is to be missional, let’s be missional with those closest to us—the ones already within the church walls.
Evangelism must be a primary goal of kids’ ministry
These findings leave parents and church leaders with an urgent question. How will they leverage resources to make sure every child has a chance to know Jesus?
As the Orange ministry strategy powerfully states:
What you do for kids and teenagers is more important than anything else your church does.
Jesus welcomes every person to come; that includes children.
While there may be gaps in their understanding of repentance and faith, the Spirit of God does not age-limit his activities to adults.
The seed of saving faith can take root in very young children, even if it takes years for the fruit to fully show.
We are not talking about manipulation or false assurance – rather a plain explanation of the good news and an invitation to put their trust in Jesus and His promise of salvation.
#2 Parents (and family) have the most impact
Every parent has the God-given privilege of teaching children how to live. We should not be surprised that young people often come to Jesus thanks to a loving mother or father.
- Parents were named by 50% of our readers as a help in their coming to Christ.
- Half of children who come to Christ are led by their parents.
- 24% of our readers listed other family members as factor.
The surveys confirm an obvious truth – parents are uniquely positioned to spiritually shepherd a child.
One can draw a simple conclusion: the best way to impact a child’s eternity is to empower their parents. This is God’s design and is made clear in nearly every Bible passage about children.
We asked our readers, “Who helped you come to Christ?”
The following figure describes the answers we received.
Empowering parents must be a central goal in children’s ministry
One obvious way to leverage our efforts is to cooperate with God’s design for family discipleship. In short, train parents and provide them the resources they need to fulfill their role in spiritual shepherding.
Many denominational publishers, like LifeWay, produce free resources for that purpose.
Yet, parent training is rare in churches.
The Barna Group found that parents lack training. Only 1 in 5 clergy say they prioritize training for parents, and even fewer provide parenting guides or other resources.
This oversight means the most effective form of evangelism is simply neglected.
Untold millions are spent on global outreach, but we fail to see that the great commission starts around the family dinner table.
How can parents live out the Gospel?
Sam Luce, a respected children’s pastor and blogger, offered this advice for Gospel parenting:
The greatest things parents can do is model faith at home, find a church that proclaims the gospel and historic Christianity. Parents can model Bible application in personal devotional times and in family worship. Living a life of faith will create questions. The answer is not simply, “Do this because I do it,” but rather Deuteronomy 6:21. “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” We have been saved by grace through faith in Christ.
This becomes even more urgent in the morally confused culture kids are encountering daily.
Ed Stezter is an author and Dean of the Wheaton College School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership in Wheaton, Illinois. He is widely respected by church leaders for his insights into Christian mission in contemporary American culture.
He recently wrote an excellent article on how parents can pass on their faith in an age of moral confusion.
[W]e have to share with our children our own struggles, brokenness, and failures so that they might see that we are imperfect creatures seeking to follow a perfect God and His standards.
The reality is, you and I have done things or made mistakes that maybe our children don’t know—that we have been tempted or that we have even succumbed to that temptation.
So when appropriate, we want to share. When the opportunity arises, we want to be fellow strugglers. Yes, we are struggling at different times and in different ways, but we are fellow strugglers in the midst of the world’s brokenness.
This open confession of sin is a way parents can demonstrate the power of the Gospel in their own lives.
LifeWay Research found common themes among parents who successfully passed on the faith to their children. Such parents were typically involved in the following activities:
- Reading the Bible several times a week.
- Taking part in a service project or church mission trip as a family.
- Sharing their faith with unbelievers.
- Encouraging teenagers to serve in church.
- Asking forgiveness when they messed up as parents.
- Encouraging their children’s unique talents and interests.
- Taking annual family vacations.
- Attending churches with teaching that emphasized what the Bible says.
- Teaching their children to tithe.
These simple routines preach the Gospel in daily life.
When parents demonstrate obedience to Jesus, children can see firsthand the reality of Christ at work.
It doesn’t take perfect parents – just honest disciples following Jesus.
That’s the kind of parents the church should aim to produce.
Be Ready When They Express Interest
God’s timing is often a mystery, but parents should watch for increasing interest. This can mean the Spirit is at work.
As Ann Vande Zande wrote for Focus on the Family Magazine.
As your children begin to grasp how the Gospel affects their lives, they will increasingly show more interest. Your child might exhibit genuine repentance over sin, which isn’t just regret over getting caught and being punished, but more about wanting forgiveness.
Pay attention for questions regarding heaven and hell, forgiveness of sins, the nature of God or other concepts. These all indicate that something is going on deep inside. Your child may be ready for the decision to trust Jesus as Lord of her life.
Parents often serve in children’s ministry
Our survey of readers found that parents make up a large portion of leaders in kids’ ministry. One-third of those leading children’s ministry have a child who participates.[
When we train ministry volunteers, this overlaps to those parents. It’s all connected at the local church level.
In both roles, adults who are growing disciples make the best models for children.
#3 Children’s ministry matters
The role of parents does not exclude or diminish the mission of the church. Jesus set the course for all congregations that bear his name when he said, “Let the little children come to me.”
The Bible offers many strong examples supporting the importance of children in the life and mission of the church.
This starts with relationships.
Our survey found children’s ministry and Christian peers are an important factor in how people find Jesus.
- 29% of our readers said children’s ministry (or a children’s ministry leader) helped them come to Christ.
- 26% listed other children – i.e., friends – who were Christians, as a factor.
That doesn’t exclude the impact of formal ministry programming.
When we ask what programs our adult ministry leaders attended as young people, the results confirmed the role of ministry programs in their faith journey.
- 86% of our readers attended Sunday School.
- 59% attended Vacation Bible School.
Sunday School can make a difference
The overwhelming majority of current kids’ ministry leaders were one time Sunday School students.
Imagine those saints, many in the presence of Christ, reflecting on the fruits of their service. How many of those teachers knew their students would one day be leading other children to Christ?
Children’s ministry is sending missionaries to the future.[
Sunday School is the perfect setting for relational ministry. It’s the original small group Bible study.
One warning – not all Sunday School programs are created equal. It’s not the mere attendance that promotes spiritual growth.
In our survey of 1,000 20-somethings who regularly attended church as children and teens, we asked the question, “Did you often attend Sunday school?” In reply, 61 percent said yes; 39 percent said no. That’s about what you would expect, isn’t it?
After all, not everyone is committed enough to make the effort to get to Sunday school, right? Only those who are more concerned about the spiritual and moral health of their kids, right? Because we all assume that Sunday school is good for them, correct? The ritual of Sunday school is so interwoven into American church life that it’s hardly worth mentioning, right? Wrong.
Our research uncovered something very disturbing: Sunday school is actually more likely to be detrimental to the spiritual and moral health of our children.
Their book-length report on this problem is available on the Answers in Genesis website. It’s called “Already Gone.”
One thing is certain. How we conduct our ministry will have a lasting impact. This adds to the urgency of leading children to Christ.
We’re not called to teach good manners or even entertain kids while their parents enjoy a worship experience.
Our focus must be on transferring the life changing message of Jesus.
So often as many leaders we can become so involved in ‘doing’ ministry, we can forget about what ministry is all about – the Gospel.
If we are not careful we can pride ourselves in helping kids be better morally and miss the mark in introducing them to the Savior that gave His life for us while we were still sinners.
Hearing the stories of Gospel transformation in our lives and in the lives we lead, bring us back to the why of each task we have before us in ministry.
The gospel is the goal – not good programming, exciting events, or large numbers. May our legacy be an eternal one as we daily make it our aim to point people to Christ.
VBS still works
Despite the short duration of traditional VBS programs, they have an outside impact and provide a unique opportunity.
Evangelism is the primary goal in many VBS programs.
Non-church parents remain very open to their children attending VBS with another child. This finding from LifeWay Research makes that clear.
More than two-thirds (69 percent) of all American parents (not just Christian) say they would encourage their child to attend VBS at a church they don’t attend if their child was personally invited by a friend.
However, the decline of VBS has been observed. Here’s one such report from Facts & Trends Magazine.
But what’s concerning is that fewer churches are doing VBS each year. A study by Barna Research states 81 percent of U.S. churches offered VBS in 1997.
However, by 2012 that number had dropped to 68 percent.
This raises concerns about the potential negative impact arising from such a decrease in VBS programs nation wide.
In our survey, 59% of adult leaders in kids’ ministry were at one time frequent participants of Vacation Bible School.
Here is what we found in our survey, breaking down the programs that current ministry leaders attended.
Even the adult worship service is a venue for telling kids about Jesus.
Elementary school aged children and teenagers are present in most services, even if a special program is offered for younger children.
64% of our readers attended adult worship service when they were young.
When you consider the parent connection, it’s not difficult to imagine how important a shared family worship experience can be in the faith formation of a child.
When children see their parents offering praise to God, this becomes a powerful model in their own thinking.
Pastors can make this a point: The Gospel should ring clear every time the church is gathered.
What about children with special needs?
Many churches are unaware how traditional programing can exclude kids with special needs.
… [The] children most likely to be excluded from church are those with autism spectrum disorders and common mental health conditions – anxiety, depression, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder and ADHD
He further explains, “conditions impacting a child’s capacity for emotional regulation and self-control also appear to cause great challenges at church[.”
In further correspondence, I ask Dr. Grcevich how these issues might affect a child’s exposure and response to the Gospel.
In summary, the large group events for ministry (VBS, youth camp, mission trips) are too difficult for some children with special needs. Those experiences, as traditionally practices, have many barriers to inclusion].
So kids with special needs do not attend.
He advocates an inclusion plan for every church to be prepared to welcome every child.
What about para-church outreach ministry?
Only 42% of parenting aged adults belong to a church according to the latest Gallup poll.
Those are today’s parents – who will bring their kids to church?
Where can a child hear the Gospel if their family does not attend church?
Bible based club programs for kids are a unique and powerful way to reach kids whose parents are not believers. Because they are usually held during the week parents who are not church goers find it a way to give their children some religious training.
The after school Good News Club program sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship for instance is held in the public-school building. The children hear a clear presentation of the Gospel and are challenged to grow in their walk with God. Meeting the spiritual needs of kids today is critical and with the decline in church attendance Bible club programs are a way to reach these kids for Christ.
Parachurch programs can have a unique role, but a dramatic shift is required to change current trends.
Some writers and Christian observers deny the flight of young people altogether, but the growing statistics should alarm us enough as Church leaders to do something about the dilemma.
Relationships make teaching effective
Can you think of a better testimony to the Gospel?
Kids are welcomed by kind hearted adult believers. They build friendships with Christian peers. They hear the plan of salvation in a positive child-appropriate environment.
Sharing the love of Christ begins by sharing your life.
As David Rausche has powerfully explained in a recent blog posting, it’s not just teaching – it’s about relationships, too. He begins by quoting an article from the New York Times.
Brooks says, “[This breakthrough work] reminded us that what teachers really teach is themselves—their contagious passion for their subjects and students. It reminded us that children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.”
Let me say that again for the purpose of emphasis, “Children learn from people they love.” God has already equipped you with the most important tool for teaching the kids in your ministry—it’s your contagious passion for Him and your love for His children.
#4 We serve because Jesus loves kids
When we surveyed our leaders on the state of children’s ministry, we asked them to describe what motivates their service.
Christ’s love for children was the overwhelming leading answer.
- 86% responded that Jesus loves kids.
- 23% felt the church or pastor was depending on them.
- 23% recalled their own salvation as a child for motivation.
Kids Knowing Jesus is the Goal
Child evangelism, if done poorly, can cause confusion for children. Consider the various ways kids are prompted to respond to a Gospel invitation.
- Raising hands
- Walking forward
- Filling out a card
The Bible describes conversion as a life changing event. Kids coming to Christ is more than a gesture of compliance when prompted by an adult.
Pushing for decisions can sometimes miss the point. Children’s Ministry Magazine put it this way.
Do you see the problem? Sure, it looks good on paper, but how many of those kids are really going to walk away with a true lifelong friendship with Jesus?
Make it a point to talk with children about what being a follower of Jesus really means. And talk with interested children away from the crowds with another pastor or volunteer present.
Most importantly, don’t force it. Let God work though you in this situation. Prayerfully follow God’s lead!
We serve despite real limitations.
We asked our readers to list their most pressing needs in ministry. Here is how they responded.
- 61% listed more volunteers (co-workers) as the most pressing need.
- 50% cited their need for teaching materials.
- 36% felt a desire for personal spiritual renewal.
- 30% identified financial resources as a leading need.
- 28% wanted more church leader support.
Relationships power ministry
The theme of relationships was obvious in most of these statistics.
The root cause of many of these pressing needs is lack of relationships in ministry.
Consider the problem of too few volunteers.
The most powerful advice I’ve found on staffing a children’s ministry comes from Karl Bastian. He’s a long-time children’s pastor, author, and has trained a whole generation of ministry leaders. He’s also the founder of Kidology.org the leading website for anyone teaching kids about Jesus.
Here’s what he says about finding volunteers.
The ministry with the most volunteers will be the ministry where people connect and make friendships. If you don’t connect volunteers to yourself and each other, you will always be recruiting, over and over and over, because you won’t be meeting the real need. The need isn’t to staff your rooms. It is to help the people who come to your church to connect with God and each other. Do that, and your classrooms will all be staffed by friends.
That is just one example.
Other problems in ministry can be connected to the need for relationships. Support from church leaders and parents is more likely when they are friends with the children’s ministry director.
Don’t do ministry alone.
Pray for friends to share the calling and to multiply the impact on the children God has brought to your ministry.
#5 We need one another
It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees – but we are blessed to have so much connection with others serving in children’s ministry.
The Internet makes it possible to share ideas across the globe. We don’t need to feel alone in ministry.
The following statistics are from our 2019 website survey.
- 2/3 of our readers are unpaid volunteers at church.
- 65% depend on the Internet for ideas and encouragement.
In many churches, Children’s ministry remains a volunteer only programs.
We asked for more information about our readers churches and the number of children present in their weekly programs.
We discovered most were severing in smaller congregations.
- 2/3 of our readers served in churches with less than 250 attending.
- 51% had less than 25 children in their ministry each week.
We also asked about their financial resources and confirmed that most feel their budgets are limited.
The low rate of paid-staff combined with the funding struggles might raise concerns. Especially when considering the percentage of adult Christians who were converted in the childhood years.
These limitations lead children’s ministry leaders to look to one another for information and encouragement.
We all can learn from one another. Ministry peers are ready to share their insights and struggles.
To make that point, I’ll list some of the readers’ responses to our 2019 Kids and Salvation Survey. kids and salvation survey. We hope these insights will encourage and empower you for more effective ministry.
Some highlights from these responses:
- Readers were two times more likely to list barriers to their ministry than to describe what is working.
- The most common positive responses centered on relationships, parents sharing the message, and offering the Gospel in child-friendly language.
- The most common barriers listed were sporadic attendance, parents not sharing the message, behavior issues, and technological distractions.
Salvation belongs to the Lord, but we can learn from his work. Knowing how children typically come to Christ can give us insight.
We hope this look at the state of Children’s Ministry is both an encouragement and challenge to you.
Childhood is a unique opening for the Gospel, but that window closes fast.
Parents and church leaders have an urgent task – to share the love of Jesus with each child God brings within their influence.
That starts with relationships, making sure every kid knows they matter to you as a person. It means sharing how Christ is at work in your life.
Church ministry may change to reach each new generation, but proven programs like VBS and Sunday School can still be effective. There are many barriers unique to today’s culture, but we can learn from one another and the tools used by past generations.
We can be confident the Gospel is never outdated, that love is always in demand, and children need help to navigate life.
We can be
certain the Good News will spread to the next generations – because Jesus loves
Addendum: Reader Responses
The following are two of the questions we asked our readers in this survey, and a sample of their responses. We left many repeated answers in order to emphasize how common or frequent are certain responses.
In your ministry, what ONE THING is most effective in helping kids come to Christ?
- In class and in children’s church, always give kids a chance to reply to questions and have a time of invitation.
- Showing love to kids first – accepting them and letting them know they really do matter. That opens their hearts to hear the message of Jesus.
- Talking to them about the importance of not only DOING the “right” things or acting the right way, but how being Christian is about having a relationship with Jesus. Once we BELIEVE in Jesus, then we show others our belief through Baptism and being kind, loving, and respectful.
- Developing a personal relationship with the children.
- Being truthful about my own person experience and relationship with Christ.
- Showing love and acceptance to all no matter the behavioral issues or attitudes. It throws kids off when you love them no matter what.
- Talking to them about what it means to live for Christ.
- Keeping the Word of God simple for their understanding.
- Sharing the gospel in simplistic form and them understanding how much Jesus loves them.
- Clear, plain, ABC’s of Salvation message and invitation.
- Camp experiences.
- Church bus.
- Talking to them and listening when they speak.
- Bible Camp – that’s where I received Christ.
- Special program activities.
- Making sure they truly understand who Jesus is and what He did for us.
- To speak to them about Christ and growing up in a Christian home where one hear the Word of God spoken as a familiarity.
- Teaching them they matter also, that it’s not just for adults.
- Teaching them to pray on their own.
- To let them see how relevant God’s Words stays even though everything else changes. His Word is like Him. When they grow to love God’s Word as God’s children, they stay.
- Parents who assume the responsibility of being their child’s primary faith trainer and model on a daily basis for them how to live out their faith.
- Allowing the Holy Spirit to lead – lovingly.
- Teaching solid Bible lessons, and Scripture memory.
- Teaching about Jesus’s love for them.
- Praying for them, keeping in touch, being gentle, giving love, teaching with passion, and being realistic during class.
- Teaching memory verses and then using them in services and prayer and life examples but keeping coming back to scripture.
- Genuine faith and interest shown by leaders.
- Parents who follow Christ and teach their children to do so, too.
- Relating Bible events and Jesus’s words to experiences they have in their lives.
- After school club.
- Teaching on their level and simply asking if they want to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.
- Question and answer sessions.
- Consistency in teaching, encouragement and prayer.
- Children’s ministry programming with encouraged discussions.
- Personal talks.
- Giving them opportunities to experience God, not just learn about Him.
In your ministry, what ONE THING is the biggest barrier when helping kids come to Christ?
- Peer pressure.
- Inconsistent attendance.
- Chaos in their homelife makes it hard for them to really hear the message when we teach.
- Parents not knowing if their child is “ready.”
- Families not coming to church on a regular basis.
- Getting them to sit still so they can hear the gospel of Christ.
- Family members that are against it.
- When Christ is not in the home.
- Time restraints placed on kids by extracurricular activities such as football.
- School and outside influences constantly confusing kids and confusion in parents’ faith.
- They are not sure of what they are doing.
- Getting parents to reinforce the lesson during the week.
- Other kids (peer pressure).
- Parents not attending church.
- Society perception.
- Family schedules.
- Forcing your opinions on them.
- Kids who don’t come from Christian homes, so there’s not much support from their families.
- Parents not attending, so not keeping children faithful.
- Controlling those who have trouble sitting still.
- Parents not worrying about their children’s souls.
- Attention span.
- Parents not taking kids to church, and /or talking to their kids about God.
- Families who face challenges in attending church regularly because a parent or a child experiences a condition that causes difficulty fitting into the culture of the church – culture defined as our expectations for how people will act when we come together. “Doing church” becomes very hard if you have a condition impacting your capacity for self-control, social communication, sensory processing or your comfort level entering new or unfamiliar situations.
- Religious attitudes, condemnation, intolerance and hypocrisy.
- Kids’ inconsistent attendance.
- Lack of attendance.
- Over commitment in school sports.
- I couldn’t find barrier with the children – the majority of them are coming from Christian families and it’s easier for them to receive Jesus in the heart.
- Too much worldly competition against church events.
- Non-Christian homes.
- Parent’s absenteeism.
- Family breakdown both in the church and in society.
- Parents who are lazy and apathetic about their own faith.
- Cultural influences.
- Preaching at them!
- Lack of interest of parents.
- Non believing parents.
- The secular world! Social Media, TV, movies, music, etc.
- Boredom with doctrinal teaching at too early an age.
- Getting their attention away from smartphones.
- Video games. Not interested in spiritual things.
- Sometimes the parents.
- More challenging when they are with visiting friends.
- Parents that don’t believe.
- Lack of understanding about sin.
- School cultures that disrespect Christianity.
- Lack of teaching.
- Some of my children are afraid of having to be baptized. Peer pressure.
- The enemy.
- Control in the classroom and parents not bringing them to church.
- Social media and their peers.
- Cultural media messages.
- Follow-up via parents, children’s ministry staff, local church.
- Pressure to bring in large numbers – less opportunity to spend time with each child.
- The flesh.
- Keeping kids’ attention and distractions.
- Parents busy with unimportant things.
Addendum: More Survey Results
“2019 State of Children’s Ministry Survey.” Ministry-To-Children, 2019. https://forms.gle/dU6CxVNCHgSqqNwg8 (accessed April 23, 2019).
“Kids and Salvation Survey.” Ministry-To-Children, 2019.
https://forms.gle/yz6FkME67Py1qSqf7 (accessed April 22, 2019).
Spreadsheets of the full results are available upon request. Tony@ministry-to-children.com
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