It was something I had heard repeated as long as I had been in ministry: "85 percent of all people who accept Christ do so before the age of 18." I was never exactly clear where that statistic came from, but I had no reason to doubt it either. Everyone I knew considered it an evangelistic axiom.
The good part of the statistic was that it reinforced the importance of reaching children and youth with the gospel. They are receptive. Important decisions are made before adulthood. And we must reach our young people with the gospel.
However, when I made the transition from ministry with students to adults, I quickly saw the downside of the statistic. Now I wanted to help adults reach their friends and neighbors for Christ. Though most were willing to try, I could see they didn't have much expectancy. They assumed that once people got past a certain age (the axiom indicated it was 18) the odds of them responding to the gospel were dismal.
At my first church, I remember encouraging board members in their personal evangelism. I asked them with whom they were sharing their faith. Marvin spoke up. He was one of my most supportive leaders, but he didn't sound very hopeful: "Well, pastor, I've been talking with Jim who works next to me down at the shop. He just split up with his wife and has been asking some questions. He's pushing fifty, though, and pretty set in his ways. I know the chances of him changing now aren't very likely. But I keep praying for him anyway."
I couldn't help but wonder: Was it really that dismal? Does "85 percent of all people who accept Christ do so before the age of 18" mean that it's doubtful that many adults will make a life-changing decision to follow Jesus?
I could understand if someone was raised with faith, ...