Someone sent the following question to the ministry:
“I am wondering what Ray would say to the opinion that most people will be saved by the age of 13; after that it is very rare for someone to accept the Lord. That is a discouragement when passing out tracts to college students on a University quad.”
These statistics may be true, but they are not discouraging for a number of reasons. The first is because of the field of endeavor in which church evangelism takes place. Young people being saved is often not the result of physically going into the world and preaching the Gospel to every creature. Rather than reaching out to adults, much of today’s church evangelism is aimed toward children in Sunday school or at vacation Bible schools. That’s why the statistics may be true, but they’re also misleading. When fishermen fish only for herrings, we shouldn’t be surprised that the results only show a catch of herrings.
Here is a similar child-response statistic. But see if you can spot the telling discrepancy: “Another survey cited by the International Bible Society indicated that 83% of Christians make their first commitment to Jesus between the ages of 4 and 14…” (Howard Culbertson, “At What Age Do Americans Become Christian?”).
See those words: “…make their first commitment to Jesus…” A first commitment implies that there are more commitments to come. They just happen at a later age. And there usually are. For those workers who lack knowledge of the nature of true conversion, it’s very common to see their agenda as wanting children to give their hearts to Jesus. It’s actually an easy thing to do. I’m sure I could get 99% of four-year-olds to raise their hands to accept Jesus by asking if they wanted to go to Heaven when they die. Then I would follow up with, “And how do you go to Heaven? You give your heart to Jesus. Who wants to give their hearts to Jesus?” And there you have it, a whole class of 4-year-olds want to go to Heaven, and they indicate that with a raised hand.
There was no opening up of the Ten Commandments to show the nature of sin. There was no preaching of the wrath of God against that sin, the reality of Judgment Day, and the existence of Hell. There was no mention of the cross. And, of course, there was no preaching of repentance from sin and of faith alone in the shed blood of Christ. Rather than a genuine work of the Holy Spirit, new birth, regeneration—nothing spiritual has happened.
This is what I call "kangaroo evangelism." It’s just the first of many bounce-around decisions for Jesus. Consequently, we have the tragedy of someone who never has the assurance of salvation, because they've never heard a biblical presentation of the Gospel.
It is a tragedy beyond words.
However, when the biblical Gospel is preached, it is relevant to people of all ages. In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, those who responded that day were godly men who were there to celebrate the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. So, they were thoroughly versed in the nature of sin and its impending wrath. When Peter stood up to speak, he simply preached Christ crucified for the sin of the world. The outcome wasn't 3,000 13-year-olds immediately responding. No. The 3,000 were mature human beings with a will to live and a knowledge of sin that had caused them to thirst for righteousness.
Historical revivals also didn’t report that the average respondents were 13-year-olds. Rather, they were adults who were regenerated because preachers went into the world to fulfill the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:19). George Whitefield did that. Here’s an excerpt from an article on his ministry that accounts him preaching outdoors to coal miners:
About 200 men gathered as he spoke of hell as being black as their pit and of the certainty of judgement.… Suddenly he noticed tears coming from the eyes of a young man on his right. These tears were forming a pale streak on his grimy face. He saw the same thing happen to an old bent miners on his left, and then more and more of them. He said he saw, “White gutters made by their tears down their black cheeks.”
We also must keep in mind that these statistics are probably reflective of other unbiblical methods used by modern evangelism. Methods where people are actually coerced into making a decision for Jesus. This often takes place with large crowds of teenagers at events like concerts. These young people are psychologically manipulated at an altar call, and most of them prove to be false converts.
Nowhere in the Bible are there conversions as a result of “accepting Jesus.” Rather, sinners respond with repentance, fleeing from wrath to the safety of the Savior. Those who “accept” Jesus are usually responding to a message of God loving them, wanting to fill their God-shaped vacuum and give them true happiness. Again, the true convert repents and trusts in Jesus to flee from the wrath to come, not to add Him to our worldly lifestyle, as happens with so many nowadays.
So, dear faithful laborer, don’t be discouraged. Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. There is nothing wrong with the seed you are sowing. If it’s the true Gospel, as Romans 1:16 says, it is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes”. It cannot return void. So, keep doing what you’re doing, knowing that your labor in the Lord is never in vain.
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58).
Ray Comfort is the Founder and CEO of Living Waters and the bestselling author of more than 80 books, including God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, How to Know God Exists, and The Evidence Bible. He cohosts the award-winning television program "Way of the Master," seen in almost 200 countries, and is the Executive Producer of "180," "Evolution vs. God," "Audacity," and other films. He is married to Sue and has three grown children, and hasn't left the house without gospel tracts for decades. You can learn more about his ministry at LivingWaters.com.