Several years ago (about 18 to be exact) I worked in an active Cubbies club with a healthy mixture of church and non-churched kids. As we taught through the curriculum, we often explained the gospel in preschool-appropriate terms.
One Wednesday, four-year-old Melinda went home thinking about what had been said during the lesson. Later that night, alone in her bed, she decided she wanted to trust Christ as Savior and did so right then.
Melinda had heard the gospel before. She went to Sunday school, children’s church, Awana … and her dad and mom faithfully explained it to her at home.
Four years old? Did she know what she was doing? Do any preschoolers understand enough to trust Christ?
Like Melinda, I trusted Christ as a preschooler. Like Melinda, I consistently heard about salvation at church and at home. Like Melinda, I understood the basics – enough to want to become a child of God.
If you work with preschoolers, you know that some children have a good understanding and some have no understanding at all about God and the Bible. Most of those who have an understanding come from homes where the Dad and/or Mom are teaching and living the good news of salvation.
Here are some thoughts from my own ministry and experience.
1. Preschoolers are observers. They imitate the adults in their lives so if they hear adults talking about the Lord Jesus Christ, they’ill want to talk about Him too. They are often (but not always) in tune with what is happening around them. When a preschooler tells us she wants to trust Christ, we need to be sure she is doing more than repeating words. Does she understand what she is doing?
2. Preschoolers will believe anything you tell them. That’s why it’s so easy to make them believe there’s a Santa Claus, an Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. But that also means it’s easy to get them to agree to anything you ask them. So be careful that you don’t coerce a little child into “trusting Christ” when she has no idea what that means.
3. Preschoolers can understand the basics. Preschoolers—especially those who have heard the gospel message over and over again—can understand the basics of salvation. Much of the time kids understand they’re sinners more than adults do. That’s because adults daily point out that they’re sinners. Little kids get “in trouble” for disobedience, for talking back, for hitting their little brother … They know they’ve done wrong and they know what it means to be punished. Those who grow up in close families can also understand love. Ask the child questions. Talk about his answers.
4. Preschoolers are literal. Make sure all your leaders are using the same terminology. (You can also send an email or note to the parents letting them know the words that you use in explaining salvation.) Often we say that kids respond to salvation multiple times, but the reason is sometimes our fault, not theirs.
Think of the following invitations:
- Do you want Jesus to be your very best friend and go everywhere with you?
- Do you want to live in a beautiful place?
- Do you want to be happy all the time (which isn’t true, but still is said)?
- Do you want to be one of God’s children?
What child doesn’t want all these things? They don’t understand that leaders are basically attempting to explain salvation. Be clear (think 1 Corinthians 15:3-4) and use consistent terminology when discussing the gospel.
5. Parents need to be included. Most preschoolers (but not all) who are sincere in their desire to trust Christ come from Christian homes. If a child tells you he/she would like to trust Christ, call the parent (either from where he/she is serving in the building or at home) and give the parent the opportunity and privilege of leading that little one to the Lord.
What happened to four-year-old Melinda? This year I am working in Sparks at that same church where I once served in Cubbies … and the director is Melinda, now married and a mom and a young lady who is passionate about sharing the gospel of Christ with kids.
Yes, preschoolers can trust Christ.
Editor’s Note: This is a controversial issue. What do you think? Please give your comments in the section below.