My friend Gary recently mentioned a National Association Evangelical (NAE) article about when Americans become born-again (Evangelical) Christians. Here’s what the NAE post had to say:
Thirteen is the average age that members of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) became Christians, according to the NAE’s (2015) spring poll. The median age when NAE members became Christians is 11.
Evangelicals believe that salvation is made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Each person is invited to accept God’s forgiveness, which is freely offered to all who believe.
The majority of the respondents (63 percent) accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord while they were 4-14 years old, in what is known as the 4/14 Window.
The 4/14 Window describes the opportunity for evangelization within the 4-14 age range, suggesting that most people who become Christians do so during those ages. A 2004 Barna Group study indicated that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43 percent), and that two out of three born again Christians (64 percent) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday.
Responses of the NAE Asks You poll ranged from six weeks old to 50 years old. The NAE member with the six-week old conversion noted that his tradition holds to baptismal regeneration, which links salvation to the rite of baptism. The person who came to Christ at 50 was also baptized as an infant, but said that he fell away for many years, became a Christian later in life, and now serves as a pastor.
While the poll revealed a few denominational distinctives regarding salvation, comments provided by NAE members demonstrated the unique ways in which individuals come to saving faith. Some became Christians through the ministry of the Good News Club, InterVarsity, Vacation Bible Schools and revivals. Several people identified the specific place of their conversion from the kitchen table or grandmother’s home to the campfire of a Christian camp or altar of a local church. Many noted the family member, pastor or friend who led them to the Lord. And there are some who can not recall a specific date or place, echoing one respondent: “I can’t remember a time in my life where I did not identify as a Christian.”
Most Evangelicals make salvation decisions between the ages of 4 and 14. Astoundingly, 98% of Evangelicals asked Jesus to save them before the age of 30. In other words, “we must get them while they are young, or we won’t get them at all.” This is why Evangelical churches have Sunday schools, youth programs, children’s churches, vacation Bible schools, and sundry other programs used to “hook” salvation prospects while they are young. The older a person becomes, the more likely it is that they will not get saved; that they will reject in part or out of hand the claims made by Evangelical sects, pastors, and parents. Once children reach their teenage years, it becomes increasingly hard to evangelize them. Why? They can think for themselves. They are developing critical thinking skills. They are more skeptical about the religious claims made by their pastors and parents.
Are you a former Evangelical? Or a current one, for that matter? At what age did you first profess faith in Jesus? Did you have multiple salvation experiences? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Bruce Gerencser, 63, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 42 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen awesome grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.
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Yesterday, I caught up on back episodes of the TV show Tyrant. One episode featured a Muslim cleric telling a group of school children that they were soldiers in God’s Army. These children were later killed in a government attack on a terrorist training camp. This same cleric forgot to tell these children that they would be used as pawns in the war against America and the government of the fictional country Abuddin. Killed in an attack on the terrorist camp, the dead bodies of these children were filmed so they could be used in anti-government propaganda videos. A horrific scene to be sure, one that is played out time and again in the Middle East.
As I listened to the Muslim cleric tell the children that they were soldiers in God’s Army, my thought turned to the Evangelical Junior Church staple song, I’m in the Lord’s Army. Everyone now:
Harmless kid’s song? Sure, but consider for a moment how much time and money Evangelicals spend indoctrinating their children. (Please see Do Fundamentalist Christians Indoctrinate Their Children?) Throw in Christian nationalism, American exceptionalism, Bible literalism, and “Second Amendment remedies” — why, it is easy to see that, in the future, some Evangelical churches will become training camps for youthful recruits for The Lord’s Army. Preposterous? Perhaps, but consider how easily fascist Donald Trump has turned countless Evangelicals into supporters of policies that could plunge the United States into civil war.
Earlier this year, armed Christians took over a government building, believing that God wanted them to take a stand against tyranny and attacks on personal and religious freedom. So-called Patriot Pastors are now defiantly breaking federal and state laws, believing that freedom of religion is under attack by liberals, secularists, humanists, and atheists. Calling for more “Christian” laws, scores of Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mormons now believe that the Separation of Church and State is a myth. Many of the domestic terrorist attacks over the past thirty-five years have been committed by Christians who have turned to violence to right perceived wrongs. White power groups such as the KKK — once thought to be buried beneath the rubble of the race riots of the 1960s — are drawing new soldiers to their war against multiculturalism and non-whites. These groups are almost always Christian.
Given the right circumstances and motivations, I can envision Christian churches, pastors, and parents encouraging children to be soldiers in the Christian God’s Army. One need only to watch how Westboro Baptist Church uses children to promote bigotry and hatred. Is it really a stretch to think that rabid Christians could turn to violence to advance their agendas? And even if you think I am out of my mind to think that such thing are possible, consider the fact that millions of American children are taught that there is no greater privilege than to give one’s life for Jesus. Be it in a life devoted to servitude or being martyred, these children are taught, “only one life, twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will pass” – Only One Life by C.T. Studd. (Please see The Myth of Persecution by Candida Moss, A Book Review) Martyrdom is very much a part of the many Christian sects. What better way to prove one’s faith than to die for it?
Thanks to Arkenaten for prompting me to write this post.
When using the word “indoctrinate” in connection with the manner in which Fundamentalist Christian parents raise their children, objectors say that I am using a word that should only be used when describing cult child training methods. According to the defenders of all things Evangelical, it is Fundamentalist religious cults that indoctrinate children, not God-fearing, Bible-believing, Evangelical Christians. (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) While I am sure this is the case in many Evangelical homes, only the deliberately blind refuse to see that certain flavors of Evangelical belief are awash in cultic practices, including the indoctrination of children.
In 1 Samuel 1:21-28, Hannah dedicates the child (Samuel) God has given her to the Lord:
And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and his vow. But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever. And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the Lord establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young. And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord.For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.
Using the story of Hannah dedicating Samuel to the Lord as justification, countless Evangelical pastors encourage parents to dedicate their children to the Lord. Score of parents have stood before churches, infants in their arms, and made promises to raise their babies in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Often, grandparents are asked to do the same, promising that they will be good examples of Christian belief and practice to their grandchildren. As with Roman Catholic parents and the often-meaningless rite of infant baptism, many of these I Promise God Evangelicals quickly forget their vows, going on to raise their children in nominally Christian homes. I became so frustrated by this lack of commitment to vows that I preached sermons from Deuteronomy 23;21:
When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.
When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?
I warned parents that they were provoking God to anger if they stood before the church and made a vow they had no intentions of keeping. Needless to say, requests for baby dedications dropped precipitously.
Having said that, there is a sizable minority within Evangelicalism that takes child dedications vows seriously. These parents do everything they can to indoctrinate their children into the faith once delivered to the saints — Evangelical Christianity. Some Evangelical mothers play Christian music or read the Bible out loud while their Evangelical-to-be baby is still in the womb. Soon after birth, Evangelicals parents make sure that their new babies are present in worship services, desiring for them to become accustomed to the voice of the man of God and the singing of the saints. With two of our children, my wife was in church less than 24 hours after being released from the hospital. At the time, I lauded her commitment to our new child’s spiritual training. Today? I just hand my head in shame.
From the crib through college, many children are indoctrinated in all things Evangelical. Since Evangelicalism is primarily anti-cultural and anti-intellectual — let the Evangelical whining begin — it should come as no surprise that many Evangelical parents withdraw their children from the “world,” choosing to expose them to a religious subculture that I fondly call the Christian Ghetto.
Many Evangelical parents make sure their children are at church every time the doors are open. In Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches, it is not uncommon for children to attend four services a week, and that doesn’t include youth rallies, revivals, missions conferences, and special prayer meetings. These same children are often sent to private Christian schools or are home schooled. Using curriculum produced by Fundamentalist publishing houses such as A Beka, Bob Jones, Rod & Staff, Accelerated Christian Education, Alpha Omega Publications, Christian Light Publications, Sonlight Curriculum, or Advanced Training Institute, Christian parents make sure their children are only taught a Fundamentalist Christian worldview. After graduation, these same children are encouraged to attend Christian colleges and universities, further indoctrinating them in the faith handed down by Jesus, the Apostles, and their Christian forefathers.
As I mentioned above, many Evangelical children spend an inordinate amount of time in church. Most Evangelical pastors, Sunday school teachers, and youth directors consider it their duty to raise new generations of Evangelical warriors for God. Children are taught that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Often, children reach adulthood without ever hearing anything about the errors and contradictions found in the Bible. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina, says that it is not uncommon for Southern Baptist-raised students to be shocked upon hearing that the Bible is not the book their parents and pastors say it is. Faced with cognitive dissonance of the first degree, these students often retire to the house of faith — the safe confine of all who have been lied to about the nature and history of the Biblical text. Other students face crises of faith, leading them to modify or outright reject Evangelical beliefs — beliefs, I might add that aren’t theirs, but that of their pastors and parents.
Most Evangelicals begin adult life with a borrowed system of belief, into which they have been indoctrinated their entire lives. Taught to believe and not think, these young adults are thrown out into a world that has no regard for their beliefs. Unable to defend their beliefs and moral pronouncements, these fully grown Evangelicals either lose their faith or once again retreat to the safety of their houses of worship, places where questions and doubts are washed away with a magic potion of faith and obedience.
Evangelicalism is inherently revivalistic, focusing on the salvation of sinners — those who have not repented of their sins and expressed faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelicals of all stripes believe that children come into the world as sinners, alienated from God and in need of eternal salvation. Most, if not all, Evangelical sects say that children aren’t accountable for their sin until they understand the difference between right and wrong. (Calvinists would beg to differ, I’m sure.) This standard, of course, is established by the Biblical interpretations of pastors and parents, and varies from church to church and family to family. Most Evangelical pastors and parents would agree that it is best for children to be saved (born again) at an early age. As a result, it is not uncommon to hear of Evangelical children being saved at ages as young as four or five. Both my wife and I were saved the first time at age five, and like many Evangelical children, we later rededicated our lives to the Lord as teenagers. I have had parents tell me that their three year old toddlers had asked Jesus into their heart. These toddlers, as most Evangelical children are, were taught that disobeying their parents was sin. If these toddlers understood what it meant to obey and disobey parents this meant that they were sinners and were now in danger of dying and going to hell. No Evangelical parents want their child to go to hell, so with sincere intentions these parents encourage (goad?) their progeny to pray to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Viola! Their children are miraculously forgiven of their sins and booked for a room in God’s mansion in the sky — a room Jesus is now preparing just for them.
Many Evangelical churches spend a significant amount of money and time on programs that are meant to thoroughly indoctrinate children in the teachings of the Bible. Countless church workers warn their little charges of the dangers of sin, the need of salvation, the wonders of heaven, and the horrors of hell. These methods result in numerous children and teenagers getting saved. Once saved, these born-again children are encouraged to dedicate their lives in service of the Lord. Children are encouraged to serve the Lord full time as pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Christian school teachers, and pastors’ wives. More than a few Evangelicals pastors of my youth told me that the becoming a pastor was the most important job in the world, greater than even becoming the president of the United States.
Is it any shock, then, based on what I have written, that critics of Evangelicalism such as myself say that many Evangelical churches, pastors, and parents use cult-like indoctrination to ensure that their children continue to worship the family/cultural God? Evangelical children are not taught to reason and think (for the most part). Faith trumps reason, beliefs trump facts. Years ago, I tried to show a colleague and best friend of mine several of the errors that are found in the King James Bible. He believed that the King James Bible was the inerrant Word of God. I had, but a few weeks previous, similar beliefs, but I had recently found out that the KJV translation did indeed have errors and contradictions. I thought, at the time, that my good friend surely would want to know this, but I quickly found out that no matter what I showed him, he had no intentions of changing his beliefs. With a faith-filled voice, my friend told me, I don’t care if you can show me errors in the King James. By faith, I am going to believe that the KJV is the perfect Word of God.
So it is in many Evangelical churches and homes. Atheists often wrongly think that Evangelicals will turn from their beliefs if they are confronted with the true nature of the Bible. They are astonished when Evangelicals reject evidence and facts and appeal to faith. These atheists fail to understand that no amount of evidence or argumentation can penetrate a worldview built upon a foundation of Fundamentalist Biblical belief. Properly indoctrinated Evangelicals will rebuff attempts to lead them away from their beliefs. Is this not exactly what their parents and pastors warned them would happen? False teachers lurk in the shadows, ready and willing to lead you away from your Biblical beliefs, countless Evangelical pastors warn. Doubt and questions are tools of Satan used to lead you astray! Flee from anyone who causes you to doubt your faith! Unshaken will their faith remain until something causes them to at least consider that one or more of their beliefs might be wrong.
Rarely will arguments with atheists produce such doubts. This is why I don’t try to argue anyone out of his or her faith. I encourage Evangelicals to read, and then ask questions —LOTS of questions. I encourage them to ask their pastors questions, noting their responses. If their pastors sidestep questions, appealing to faith or quote a number of Bible verses, it is safe to assume said pastors are trying to hide something or are ignorant themselves. Sometimes, events will happen in their lives that cause Evangelicals to doubt the love, justice, and fairness of God. These doubts often provide a springboard for discussions concerning suffering and God’s culpability in the things that afflict humans and animals alike. Knowing that many Evangelicals have intellects that have been smothered by dogma, rote learning, and proof texting, those of us who want to help people break free of Fundamentalist bondage must be willing to be longsuffering, patient, and kind, knowing that the path out of Evangelicalism is often fraught with false starts, trepidation, and much intellectual and emotional anguish. To quote the Rolling Stones, time is on my (our) side, yes it is. We know the Evangelical God is a fiction, and that heaven and hell are mythical places used as a carrot and stick by preachers to ensure the fidelity of parishioners to the one true faith. I am willing to wait patiently as truth does its perfect works in the minds of those who sincerely believe in the existence of the Evangelical God and the infallibility of the Christian Bible
As I look back over my own life, I am left to conclude that it was impossible for me to grow up to me anything but an Evangelical preacher. My mind was so saturated from the religious indoctrination of my parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and college professors that my fate was sealed. Sadly I was almost 50 years old before I finally figured out that my life was constructed on a false foundation and an elaborate framework of lies. It pains me to admit this, but in doing so I sincerely hope I can help others steer clear of Evangelicalism and its intellect-numbing worldview.
It is summertime, a time when school children spend their waking hours in leisure pursuits. I have many fond memories of the warm days of summer, three months of freedom from the rigors of the classroom. I spent countless hours at the swimming pool, riding bikes, playing baseball, going to Kings Island/Cedar Point, overnight camping, and aimless hanging out with friends. I suspect children today do many of the things I did half a century ago.
Evangelical churches know that they will have numerous opportunities over the summer months to — through coercive means — win boys, girls, and teenagers to Jesus. Church members are encouraged to scour their neighborhoods in search of children to invite to their church’s Vacation Bible School (VBS), Backyard Bible Club, or Day Camp. Non-Christian parents, unaware of the ulterior motive of Evangelicals, readily allow their children to attend programs that serve no other purpose than to turn children into Christians.
Evangelical churches are quite savvy when it comes to methods used to attract children to what can only be described as indoctrination camps/meetings. Years ago, Vacation Bible School was the main tool used by churches to evangelize neighborhood children. While many churches still use this method, other Evangelical churches use day camps to draw children to their lair. These camps are fun-filled weeks sure to thrill most children. Some of these camps focus on sports. Regardless of the theme or focus, the end game is always the same — evangelizing children and teenagers.
Most of the time at these events will be spent doing fun activities. Fun! Fun! Fun!, says advertising material. What’s never stated is that the fun is a means to an end — making sure every attendee has an opportunity to ask Jesus into their heart/get saved/become a Christian. Some churches even baptize youthful converts at special services at the end of the week.
Sadly, many non-Christian (and Christian) parents are way too trusting. If Evangelical neighbor Susie stops by to invite their children to VBS or day camp, many parents quickly say yes. After all, the events are being held at churches, parents think. What harm could possibly come from allowing my children to go? As those of us who follow closely the machinations and shenanigans of Evangelical churches know, churches are NOT safe havens for children and teenagers. I would never advise parents to send their children to churches unattended. The risk is too great, especially now that we know that sexual predators and child abusers are often fine, upstanding church members, pastors, deacons, youth group leaders, and Sunday school teachers. No parents in their right minds would allow their children to spend time with neighborhood registered sex offenders. Doing so would warrant a visit from child protective services. Yet, these very same parents don’t think twice about letting their children attend church activities that are magnets for predators. (Churches rarely do criminal background checks on summer program workers or the ministry teams that go from church to church holding camps/meetings.)
Evangelical churches should state very clearly their motives when inviting neighborhood children to VBS or day camps. Imagine what the response would be if advertising material contained the following:
VACATION BIBLE SCHOOL
We are Wonderful Baptist Church 666 Salvation St Defiance, Ohio 43512 419-956-Jesus
Come Join Us June 13-17 6:00-9:00 P.M.
Lots of Fun and Games Crafts and Snacks Too
And while your children are with us we plan to use coercive means to evangelize them. We plan to scare the hell out of your children, teaching them that if they do not repent, they will spend eternity being tortured by God.
Disclaimer: We plan to use workers who have not been thoroughly vetted. It’s too darn expensive to do a background check on everyone. Besides, we are Christians. Everyone knows Christians would never hurt children.
Something tells me that doing so would drastically reduce VBS/day camp attendance. Maybe not. Surely the fine folks down at First Baptist Church would never, ever do anything to harm children, right? People need to open their eyes and pay attention to the nefarious methods used by Evangelical churches (and some mainline churches) to evangelize and indoctrinate unchurched children. Just remember, it’s never just about fun, food, and fellowship. The ultimate goal is always to win wicked, sinful children to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
In any other setting such methods would be roundly criticized and condemned. Churches, however, get a free pass because they are considered depositories of morality and ethics. Until people realize that churches do not warrant such trust, children will continue to be targeted for evangelization and indoctrination.
If there is one thing I’ve learned about Evangelicals and conservative Christians, it is hard for them to get together and just have fun. Everything is a means to an end. It’s hip now for several local churches to go out in the community and “help” others. Dressed in their matching church advertisement shirts, out in the community they go to do good works for Jesus. Why is there a need to advertise the church or hand out printed materials with the church’s name on it? If it is all about Jesus, why not do these works anonymously? Instead, these social outreach programs are used as a means to evangelize and attract church members. While they certainly do some earthly good, the grand goal is to win souls to Jesus and increase the church roll.
Years ago, the churches I pastored sponsored numerous fun events for local teenagers. From all-nighters at the YMCA to roller skating and bowling, we would design activities sure to draw local teens. During every event we would have a time when we gathered everyone together and preach the gospel. You see, fun was not the objective, salvation was. Teenagers endured the preaching and high pressure evangelism because they knew that fun awaited them just beyond saying the sinner’s prayer.
Last Saturday was the inaugural Defiance Fun Fest. According to the Defiance Crescent-News (behind a paywall):
Several Defiance area churches are partnering with Ravens Care of Defiance to present the first ever Family Fun Fest, Aug. 1 from 4-7 p.m. at Diehl Park in Defiance…
Family Fun Fest is an opportunity for families to spend time together enjoying food, fun and friends, all for free. The event has been underwritten by the Defiance Police Officers Association, First Federal Bank, General Motors Defiance Casting Operations, Johns Manville, Midwest Community Federal Credit Union and The State Bank.
The idea started when Pastor Rick Rufenacht of First Church of God in Defiance talked with other pastors about working together on an event that would minister to people in the Defiance community. His church had done a similar family event the past six years, but he was looking for a greater impact on Defiance.
“I had attempted to get some pastors together to talk about doing ministry together and what that might look like,” said Rufenacht…
…Katye Katterheinrich, director of Ravens Care, loved the idea of a family event.
“There are so many adult events in our area, but this is an event geared toward families, and it’s free,” said Katterheinrich. “There are a lot of families that don’t get to go on vacation, that don’t get to go to the pool, that don’t always have these kind of opportunities. Ravens Care is supported by area churches, so working together on a family event with the churches, is really natural fit.”
Pastor Max Begley of Second Baptist Church in Defiance, is pleased to be a part of this event and the spirit of cooperation that has grown among the churches and with Ravens Care.
“Each individual church may not be able to do a family festival by itself because it may be limited by resources, so by coming together, we can do something better together that has a greater positive impact on the community,” said Begley. “Because Rick and his church had already been doing this, we agreed to work together to build on that, and once we did, it started coming together quickly.”
Several of my grandchildren attended the event. According to the newspaper, Fun Fest included:
…large inflatable attractions, Zorbs, hot dogs, popcorn, sno cones, cotton candy, games, crafts by Lowes of Defiance, a karate demonstration, a demonstration from Iron Faith Fitness Center of Defiance, a photo booth, Defiance firemen and fire trucks, Defiance policemen and cruisers, Defiance County Sheriff’s Office, DARE and K-9 dogs.
What’s not to like, right? Sounds like a lot of fun and the proceeds went to support Ravens Care, a “Christian Ministry dedicated to meet needs in the community that are not being met by other agencies.” I am all for any “ministry” or program that helps the least of these, but works of charity should not be used a means to evangelize non-Christians. While Ravens Care, as far as I know, does not evangelize those they serve, the Family Fun Fest did.
Children were able earn coupons/tickets that could be turned in for rides on the inflatables. Guess what one of ways was that children could earn tickets? Attending a gospel presentation at the ” ‘Choosing Christ’ tent for kids, (a program) designed to allow kids to learn the gospel message.” Hey kiddies, want to earn some tickets so you can go play on the big, fun rides? Just sit here and let us tell you about Jesus. As any adult who was evangelized like this as a child will tell you, what’s a little preaching and praying when you get to play games and do fun stuff when you are done. Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner. I know you died on the cross to save me from my sins. Come into my heart and save me. In Jesus name, Amen. Tickets please!
I did a cursory Google search for the Children Choosing Christ tent and I found out that this tent is used to evangelize at NW Ohio fairs and special events. While I was unable to find out what group or person owned the tent, I was told that the preaching in the tent was decidedly Evangelical, geared to evangelizing and converting impressionable children. In any other context we would consider such behavior predatory and harmful.