What is the 4-14 window?
Let's start with the stats. www.4to14window.com says there are roughly 7 billion people in this world, with 268,4934 born this week; that's around 140,000,000 born this year. The world's population is becoming younger and more urban. Thanks to the internet they're now more connected than ever before with sites such as YouTube, Facebook and hundreds of other social networking sites.
Research by the Barna Group shows that young people are most receptive and open to spiritual and developmental input between the ages of 4-14, giving Christians worldwide a wonderful opportunity to effectively evangelise and share the good news of Jesus Christ. While the idea of investing in children's ministry and discipleship is nothing new, the number of children on this earth is growing extremely fast. The 4-14 movement describes the recent push and awareness of the global church to reach these young people.
My faith in God began and was nurtured while I was inside the 4-14 window. As a child my parents faithfully shared the gospel with me, and their encouragement led me to Christ. As a small girl I remember praying a four-year-old version of the sinner's prayer; not entirely sure whether I had done it right. I remember the feeling of knowing I needed God, and wanting to come to Jesus.
God was very faithful and my love for him and knowledge of his word grew. As I got older and began to wrestle with my own doubts and questions I found the foundation of teaching from childhood extremely valuable. God used my 4-14 years to keep me relying on Christ as an older teen and young adult. If you are a parent reading this, never devalue your contribution in discipling your child. I encourage you to remain faithful and pray fervently.
What does the Bible have to say?
Biblically, God sees children as precious – Psalm 127 describes them as a reward from the Lord. They are to be treasured and taught God's ways at home and by their community. Children represent the relationship God wants with his people – in Matthew chapter 18 Jesus tells his disciples that unless they become like little children they won't be able to enter the kingdom of heaven. The vulnerability of children makes them worthy of protection from neglect, abuse and violence. Jesus himself advocates for their protection in Matthew chapter 18 verses 5 and 6. Like all people, children are designed to worship God as they are – it's not something they 'grow into'. In Matthew's gospel we see children give praise to Jesus as Lord, even when adults reject him.
God chooses to include young people as an important part of the biblical narrative – think Isaac, Samuel, David, Josiah. Not to mention the way Jesus recognised children by healing them, caring for them and using them as an example of humility.
Why is the 4-14 window significant for us?
Don't make the mistake of writing off ministry to children and pre-teens as insignificant or 'lesser' than ministry to adults. The Lausanne Movement says children are capable of following Jesus as they are, and their inclusion in the community of faith enriches and enhances the capacity for mission.
Often when we think of 'next generation' we imagine people in their teens and 20's. The statistics and the biblical imperative are clear: we should be actively thinking of how to engage those within the 4-14 window in God's mission. How will you open this window of opportunity? Here are five ways you can help impact the next generation:
1. Invest financially in people and groups committed to actively sharing the good news with children.
2. Take up opportunities in your own community; become a Bible in Schools teacher, help with Sunday school or volunteer to help at a school holiday programme run by your local church.
3. Pray for those who are working with large numbers of urban youth in local and overseas locations.
4. Encourage and support parents in your community. Many children come to faith through the tireless witness and testimony of a parent's love.
5. Share your life with the children around you; include them, listen to them, value them and encourage them to follow Christ wholeheartedly.
Sophia Sinclair is a writer living in Christchurch, New Zealand. After studying, working and training in Theatre, English Literature and Journalism, she joined the non-profit sector to work for the Anglican mission organisation NZCMS where she promotes mission around New Zealand. For more information on NZCMS: www.nzcms.org.nz
Sophia Sinclair's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/sophia-sinclair.html