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Courtney Clark accepted Jesus as Savior earlier this year at an after-school Good News Club in Commerce, Georgia. After singing songs and hearing a story about a boy who stole ice cream, Courtney, 10, said she knew she had disobeyed God and needed Jesus in her heart.

"I'm trying not to sin as I used to," she said, "and I'm trying to be nice to people."

For generations, ministry leaders have been proclaiming the importance of evangelizing children. Now many are moving beyond flashcards and cookies to teach children challenging spiritual truths.

In April, 94 children's ministry leaders from 54 organizations gathered for a two-day conference to focus on ways to effectively reach children between the ages of 4 and 14. Awana Clubs International, which has trained leaders who head clubs in 10,000 U.S. churches, hosted the meeting at its Streamwood, Illinois, headquarters. Christianity Today International and six other groups co-sponsored the gathering.

"Never before had there been a single-minded gathering like this for those passionate about children," said John Crupper, strategic partnerships director for Awana. Findings included the need to develop more challenging curricula plus integrating the growing effectiveness that children, rather than adults, have in teaching other children.

Researcher George Barna, author of Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions (Regal Books, 2003), stresses the importance of children's ministry by contending that lifelong moral views are largely in place by adolescence.

"What you believe at age 13 is pretty much what you're going to die believing," Barna said. Research compiled by his Barna Group shows that children between the ages of 5 and 13 have a 32 percent probability of accepting Jesus ...

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July 2004

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