CUMMING, Ga. – For Jenni Carter, talking to her eight grandchildren about Jesus comes as naturally as breathing.
“I pray for them to have authentic relationships with Jesus,” said Carter, children’s ministry consultant with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “That is the foremost thing I want for them.”
So when her 5-year-old grandson was awed by a tree covered in white blooms, she saw that as a teaching opportunity.
“God gave us that beautiful tree,” she told him. “God has given us so many beautiful things.”
That, Carter said, is the kind of conversations all Christian parents and grandparents need to routinely be having with their little ones to lay the groundwork for the moment in life when they are ready to give their hearts to Christ.
“What that does is keep the line of communications open so it’s not going to be awkward when it comes time to talk about salvation,” she said. “These conversations should be happening very naturally, not forced, and should begin at a very young age.”
Carter, well-known to church leaders for the training she offers to vacation Bible school leaders and volunteers, led breakout sessions Sunday evening for children’s ministry leaders, parents and grandparents at the Mission Board’s evangelism conference at First Baptist Church in Cumming. She’ll be doing the same Monday morning.
A series of Mission Board evangelism conferences around the state over the past two weeks have drawn more than 1,000 pastors and other ministry leaders.
Georgia Baptist Mission Board Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. said the evangelism conferences are intended to inspire and prepare church members to share the gospel.
“I have heard all my life that evangelism is more caught than taught,” Hammond said at the initial conference last month. “But when we have the skills to share our faith, we can do it in a way that is relevant and effective.”
Georgia Baptist churches have been focusing on evangelism and, as a result, have seen a significant increase in the number of new believers baptized over the past year. A partial count shows 14,333 baptisms in 2022, up from 12,865 the previous year. The latest numbers account for slightly more than half of the state’s 3,400 churches, so the total number of baptisms could be far higher.
The Barna Group, a research firm that focuses on religious beliefs and behaviors among Americans, has found that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as Savior do so before reaching the age of 13.
“The primary window of opportunity for effectively reaching people with the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection is during the pre-teen years,” Barna said. “It is during those years that people develop their frames of reference for the remainder of their life – especially theologically and morally. Consistently explaining and modeling truth principles for young people is the most critical factor in their spiritual development.”
Carter said LifeWay Christian Resources has printed materials that help parents and grandparents with spiritual conversations as well as how to recognize when their children or grandchildren have reached the appropriate time in their lives to accept Christ.
“Parents know when their babies are going to be strong enough to hold their heads up, when they’re going to start crawling, when they should walk, when their teeth are going to come in,” Carter said. “They know all these things, but they may not know where their children should be spiritually.”
Carter said children will go through recognizable stages in their spiritual development – the discovery stage when they’re asking lots of questions, the discerning stage when they’re determining how to react to what they have learned, the decision stage when they decide to give their hearts to Christ, and the discipling stage when they learn more about their faith.
Carter said parents and grandparents should trust the Holy Spirit throughout the process.
“It is not our job as parents, grandparents and church leaders to convict a child of their sin,” she said. “That is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is our job to present the plan of salvation, but we can’t act as the Holy Spirit toward them.”