No More Sinner’s Prayer in Kidmin?

Cute little girl is prayingSomething makes me very sad. It is this new “trend” for children’s ministry workers and pastors in churches to not invite children to pray to receive Jesus as their Savior.

I hear all kinds of reasons: they’re too young; they don’t know what they are doing; we are giving them a false sense of spiritual security; they were manipulated; they end up re-doing it later anyway; there is no sinner’s prayer anywhere in the Bible; and the most passionate objections are to asking children to invite Jesus into their heart.

In truth, I agree with many of the concerns raised by those who no longer invite kids to pray to receive Christ. It gets awkward because to defend leading kids to Jesus does not equal disagreeing with those valid concerns. But I fear at times we are throwing the baby out with the bath water.

When it comes to “inviting Jesus into our heart,” the Bible talks about the heart over 600 times. Romans 10:10 is one of the verses that forms the basis for both the expression of inviting Jesus into the heart, and for a sinner’s prayer,

“For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” – Romans 10:10

Recently a children’s pastor said to me that he was concerned about being on vacation and having some “overzealous church worker” lead his child to Christ. I have no worries about over zealous soul winners (though some bother me with their tone or style) – I’m more concerned with under zealous children’s workers who may never actually invite children to a point of decision. Yes, I’ll acknowledge that getting kids to simply pray a sinner’s prayer is disastrous – IF they have not understood nor truly had a change in their heart – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to do it right or stop reaching children for Christ because we are afraid they might not really be sincere.

boypraying108Countless people have been led to Christ this way for centuries – so why should the few who did it poorly or weren’t sincerely sincere cancel out the millions for whom it was genuine and meaningful? (Myself included at age 4!)

We can argue the semantics of “asking Jesus into the heart” – I personally don’t use that phrase, and prefer “inviting Jesus to be their Savior and Lord,” as children can be very literal, but the phrase isn’t really the issue. The heart is the issue, and the decision of the heart must be expressed somehow, and while perhaps not ideal, it is still a valid reflection of what has happened.

In addition, while I’ll grant an out loud prayer may not be required to save the soul, prayer is how we express our decisions and how we confess Jesus as Lord. As a side note, did you know ‘confess’ literally means, ‘to say it,’ not to ask for forgiveness as many think? When we confess our sins we are saying them. I John 1:9 was written to Christians who don’t need to ask for forgiveness; they already have it. It is the ‘saying it’ (admitting) that leads to purifying us from all unrighteousness. Likewise, “Confessing Jesus as Lord,” is a verbal acknowledgement that he is now Lord (boss) of your life.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9

I have no issue with those who don’t use “Jesus in my heart” or who claimed to be saved without ever praying a sinners prayer – I realize that they have made a heart commitment and perhaps prayed silently – but likewise, those in that category need not knock or discredit the millions who have asked Jesus into their heart and prayed a sinner’s prayer. It was, after all, the profession of faith by the thief on the cross to which Jesus replied, ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’ (Luke 23:43) There is plenty of biblical support for a prayer of salvation and for the use of the word heart.

I appreciate folk’s sensitivity to trite conversions, but like many things, a valid concern isn’t a reason to pendulum swing all the way to saying we shouldn’t do it at all. I think that conclusion is tragic – much better to seek to do it correctly.

The danger if we never share the Gospel or invite kids to follow Jesus is that we can end up never giving kids an opportunity to respond to what we are teaching. It would be like dating and never getting married. At some point, we need to say, “I do.” Children can end up thinking that just going to church and “being good” is enough to be a Christian. Nothing could be farther from the Truth. Which is worse – a kid praying and not really meaning it but growing in that understanding over time, or a kid never praying and assuming he is saved because he went to church and is trying to be good?

billygJesus always invited… (Matt. 16:24) and throughout history evangelists have taken people to the point of decision, and it’s changed countless lives. I’m not worried about whether a kid fully understands it – all that is needed is that first step of faith. Jesus repeatedly tells adults they need to “come as children” with simple faith, (Matt. 19:14)

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  – Mark 10:15

On top of that, God promises that he will carry to completion what has been started. (Phil. 1:6) Even John’s disciples had responded to an incomplete Gospel – accepting what they heard at the time from John, completely missing that Jesus had come and died and returned to heaven! When Paul met them, some 20 years later, they didn’t get saved then, they just got educated on what they had missed. (Acts 19) These disciples of John needed their initial faith to be brought up to speed, but it was still their initial faith that saved them, even though they were missing key elements. Kids obviously will learn much more about their faith as they grow, learn and mature – but that added knowledge doesn’t void their initial faith.

That is why I say, “Invite them often, invite them well.” And God is faithful to begin, maintain, and eventually complete their spiritual journey, even if we didn’t do everything “exactly” right at the beginning.

A journey has to have a beginning. We must invite children to begin their journey of faith and it saddens me to see so many children’s ministries moving away from our primary purpose of children’s ministry – to lead children to Jesus.

I see a lot of great stuff going on in churches – engaging environments, the Bible being taught creatively, attention to special needs, safer churches, and church becoming more fun for kids than it ever was. But if we aren’t leading kids to Jesus – we are missing our primary call as children’s workers.

I fear Jesus may be indignant with some who have all the best intentions, and are doing so many wonderful things, but aren’t bringing kids to Jesus. The disciples made that mistake too.

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. – Mark 10:14

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  1. I certainly am not a fan of the large group prayers that were common when I was a child. But, I was saved when I was 9 and I have never doubted that decision. Furthermore, research shows that a vast majority of people that make a decision for Christ do so before the age of 13. If nothing else these two things will keep me sharing the gospel with children and encouraging them to make a decision for Christ.

  2. “they are too young,”
    “but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14, NRSV)

    “they don’t know what they are doing,”
    Does anyone fully comprehend the gift of salvation? If faith were based on perfect understanding no one would be saved.

    “we are giving them a false sense of spiritual security,”
    God is not a God of confusion, but of peace (I Corinthians 14:33)

    “they were manipulated,”
    Children naturally want to follow their parent’s examples

    “they end up re-doing it later anyway,”
    One needs a spiritual foundation to build on.

    “there is no sinner’s prayer anywhere in the Bible,”
    The words “holy trinity” do not appear in the Bible. Does that make them blasphemous?

  3. David, great responses. Thanks!

  4. Right on Bro! This trend is also taking place in “big” church. I love the “invite them well, invite them often”. Going to use that if you don’t mind!

  5. One of the points I make with children when I am talking to them one-on-one about their salvation is that having a full understanding of God is something we will spend a lifetime doing, but what matters at this moment is what you believe in your heart. I give them a new Bible and write in it the date they prayed to ask Jesus to be their “Forever Friend” (a different phrasing controversy). I encourage them when they have future struggles to go back and look at that page and remember where they have put their faith.

    I don’t want them to doubt their salvation as they get older and have a deeper understanding of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. But to understand that they are further in their faith journey and that I also am still learning and growing in Christ.

    Thank you for this article. I will be sharing it with my Children’s Ministry volunteers and the parents of kids in my church.

  6. I feel strongly that kids need “spiritual-historical” markers in their life to help them steer to a better life as they grow up. Saying the sinners prayer is the most important spiritual-historical marker for anyone. Of course, it isn’t just something they say, it is something that happens! God begins to work from the inside out no matter how early they receive Jesus as Savior. Just one question, is there a jr. Holy Spirit? Why should we act like there is a different set of spiritual rules if there is not a different Holy Spirit that is given to all believers?

  7. I understand your concern. You grew up in a denomination that taught the Sinners Prayer. The problem with the Sinners Prayer is that it is an Western idea. For some reason this side of the hemisphere focuses on the exact point of salvation. Therefore, the sinners prayer was born by some well meaning Christian. But if we are a people of the Bible then we need too look at what the Bible says. First, we have to hear the message: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Rom. 10:17 Second, We have to believe or have faith: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—” Eph. 2:8 & “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:18. Thirdly, the Bible teaches an outward confession of the heart. “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” A common problem is that the “point of Salvation” people will stop there and say I’m saved and live like they always did. I call that buying fire insurance. The Bible goes on to say that fourthly we need to repent. “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.” Acts 26:20 & “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” 2 Cor. 7:10 Fifthly, the Bible teaches that baptism by immersion should follow the first 4 parts of the salvation process. “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Now some put a heavy emphasis on baptism but if a person or child does not sincerely hear, believe, confess, repent before they are baptized, then all he or she did was get wet. If they were sincere, then baptism is special as it symbolically puts on Jesus, washes away sin, puts to death the old life and we raised to new life. I personally believe it is at baptism that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to live inside of us forever. Then the Bible teaches sixthly, we are to live a faithful life: “This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.”
    I know its hard not to want to know the exact point of Salvation. Is a couple married when they say I do. When they exchange vows/rings. When the Officiant pronounces them husband and wife. When they sign the marriage license and return it within 15 days or after the honeymoon night? Karl is right in that God is concerned about the heart. We teach the above because that is what the Bible teaches and let God judge people’s hearts and grant salvation along the way.

  8. Oh man Karl, thank you for this post. I soooooooo much agree with you.

    Several years ago I was working with a single parent family and the 3rd grade girl asked for Jesus to be the boss of her life. She was in a not so moral situation with a lot of men in and out of her mom’s life. This girl genuinely wanted Christ to be her Savior and she wanted to make it public and also to be baptized.

    Her mom’s church attendance was not consistent. The minister at the time and the deacons wouldn’t allow her to make a public profession of faith nor follow in baptism. They thought since her mom didn’t come to church a lot this little girl didn’t know what she was doing.

    My thought was, this might just be the only time this child comes to the Lord. This might be the one church in her life where she felt accepted and felt the love of Jesus. Oh sure while her mother didn’t live a Christian life style and she probably wouldn’t either as a teen, it still might be the one relationship she could hold onto in her young life.

    Well, you guessed it. Her mom eventually quit coming to church. They moved out of state. I occasionally see this beautiful now teen age girl on Facebook. No mention of Christ, church or God. It appears she is living a very worldly life.

    If only………

  9. PS. I did allow the 3rd grader and acknowledged her acceptance of Christ into her life.

    And I love David’s comment

  10. I believe children do not have the capability to know what it means to be saved. They are saved. They are not in a lost state as a child. That’s why Jesus said to become like a child, He meant have their sweet hearts, hearts that naturally love God. I believe we do need to encourage kids to follow Jesus, to act like Jesus. To know His word. But to ask a child who is already saved to say the sinners prayer is like having a wedding ceremony for a 4 or 5 year old. They aren’t ready for that commitment. They are ready for baby step commitments and we should not neglect that. Like memorizing the Word, I think we fall short of expecting our kids to grow in their knowledge of Him. They need to be challenged to stand up for Jesus even in difficult situations. But it is wrong to ask a child to come forward to be saved, when they are not lost. That to me is the real sadness. It makes our kids to feel unsaved. How sad.

  11. Excellent article, Karl. Thank you.
    When we see second or repeat professions of faith, we cringe and ask, “how can this be avoided”. A second profession of faith is not a bad thing. What is bad about a second profession is what we do to make sure they don’t happen. We remove the sense of urgency and shy from an invitation altogether, as Karl laments. His lament is justified as removing urgency and invitation strips the gospel of its power. The gospel is not just a story of God’s incredible love and grace. Period. Move to the next item on the agenda. No! The gospel is also a call to respond in faith, Romans 10:9-13.

  12. If we don’t tell they can’t respond, if we tell them of Jesus and they respond to jesus they pray to God. Let’s not hinder or stop them .
    I will always invite them to know Jesus and pray for and with them to receive. T it’s the holy spirit.

  13. Thank you for this article. YES, we need to invite the children “often and invite them well”. I completely agree. I often see a child only coming once or twice. We need to invite them too. I was one of those kids who raised my hand at every altar call. But I am so thankful no one stopped me because finally one day I KNEW I was saved. To God be the glory.

  14. I totally agree…whether “little – children” sheep or “big – adults” sheep, we are to lead them to salvation, otherwise we are just another community program.

  15. And yet again out goes the baby with the bath water. Is this yet another example of politically correctness not wanting to offend being tolerate of everything and standing for nothing.
    If we don’t invite kids into a relationship with Jesus – what are we inviting them to – to be part of a club, to be part of a show – what a waste of time. Have we forgotten the great commission the whole purpose for why the church exists – to go and make disciples. Becoming a disciple or a follower starts with repentance starts with turning your life around and choosing to follow.
    Think about the call on Peters life
    First Jesus invited Peter to be part of the show – trust me put out into deep water and let down your nets The kid min equivalent might be play this crazy game
    Then he displayed his power – there was so many fish the nets nearly broke – In kids Min the truth taught through object lesson and story
    The conviction of the Holy Spirit – Go away from me Lord I am a sinful man – This is the work of the Holy Spirit – Jesus didn’t labor the point as some in kids min have been guilty of but the truth was still made clear
    BUT THEN LOOK – An invitation is given – Come and follow me AND A CHOICE IS REQUIRED.
    If the pattern worked for Jesus – who do we think we are to suggest it was wrong.
    Invite them all invite them offen invite them now

  16. Thank you and AMEN! from someone who invited Jesus into her heart at age 7, surrendered to be a missionary at age 7 and is, in fact, a missionary, now 60 years old – still following the One who saved her!

  17. I’ve been convicted about this for a while. I noticed we really didn’t do this at any kids’ services. It just stopped being done. We offer an invitation every week in “big church” why aren’t we doing it in kids’ services? We also present the gospel at VBS but don’t have a moment to offer a chance to make a decision. We weren’t fond of the group “raise your hand” type invitations so we did nothing!
    Well for the past few weeks at our Wednesday night class, I have presented the gospel in creative ways. Last night we had a child accept Christ! She was so excited! I was so excited! It was that moment we realized we have no plan! She was a new student so we don’t know her parent that well, and we had nothing to give them. One of the leaders went to our office and found a small pamphlet and gave them, although it was geared for adults it was still something that they could take and look through together.
    It’s time to invest in some small pamphlets for kids and the Awesome Adventure books for discipling.

    I just wanted to share this wonderful news on this post because it shows that what you are saying is true. I love the Lord and am so very grateful, humbled and blessed to be used by Him!

  18. “I see a lot of great stuff going on in churches – engaging environments, the Bible being taught creatively, attention to special needs, safer churches, and church becoming more fun for kids than it ever was. But if we aren’t leading kids to Jesus – we are missing our primary call as children’s workers.” – I LOVE this paragraph. Definitely worth sharing with my team!

  19. Mixed emotions of this method. I disagree with the entire sinners prayer. Show me any place in the Scriotures where Jesus “invited” or asked ANYONE to “invite” Him to be their Lord and Savior. Show me ANY place where Jesus is portrayed or personified as someone who is begging and pleading with ANYONE to invite Him in? We have so diluted and watered down this shallow and weak man-centered and humanistic Gospel that excludes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in convicting and drawing men to Christ.
    If and when the Holy Spirit is truly convicting the person’s heart, don’t you think He is able to reveal to that same person what he or she should say? In Acts 16 the Philippian jailor was no doubt pricked and convicted by the obvious power and presence of the Spirit of God at midnight as the jail was shaken by the power of God. Notice what the jailor did NOT say. He did NOT say what must I SAY to be saved…his response was what must I DO to be saved. And Paul does not put words in his mouth, but simply reveals to him what he alone must do.
    Same is true in Acts 2 when after preaching with the anointing power of the Holy Spirit pagan Jews were cut to the heart. They asked Peter what they must DO and not what they must SAY. In response Peter does not tell them what to SAY but what to DO.
    Likewise with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. We find this man headed back to his native land perhaps coming from Jerusalem reading Isaiah 53. Philip was sent by the Spirit of God out to minister to this man who was obviously being drawn and led by the Holy Spirit. God Himself always seeks any and every man ever saved. So here is the eunuch disenchanted and confused. As Philip goes through the prophecy the eunuch asked him about being baptized. No where in Isaiah 53 is any mention of being baptized, so obviously the eunuch had seen the glory and power of God back in Jerusalem as the early church was on fire. And it’s likely he witnessed many being baptized.
    But notice that once again Philip does not invite him to invite Jesus in. The ministry of the Spirit of God was already working in his heart. As Philip “preached Jesus” to the man he was drawn and Philip was there to tell him what he must DO.
    Do you think that a 4 year old…14 year old…44 year old…or 84 year old person dying in the water drowning does not know what to say? If they REALLY know they are drowning…and if they REALLY know they are dying it’s likely they will not have to be told what to say to the lifeguard standing on the shore.
    I think that American Christianity is polluting and poisoning the world. Between the seeker friendly and emergent church heresies and the prosperity gospel, we are baptizing unsaved goats into the body which is now making up the majority apostate church in America. The church in America is the poster child of the Laeodiceans. We are so accustomed to doing our “ministries” without the power and presence of the Spirit of God that we are forced to use gimmicks…and use man made means including using the sinners prayer. God help us.

  20. Great word, Karl. And good comment, David. I served as a Kids Pastor for 18 years and will always be a Kids Pastor at heart, and one of my passions is that we make sure our kids understand salvation and have an opportunity to respond to the moving of the Holy Spirit on their hearts. I would rather our kids learn to respond to the understanding that they have and to have a heart attitude toward God that responds immediately to the promptings of the Holy Spirit each step of their journey. I received Christ as my Lord and Savior at the age of six. I don’t know that I had a full head understanding of salvation, but I know that I had a heart understanding. I did understand that I was a hell-bound sinner in need of a Savior and I experienced the joy of forgiveness and release from the guilt of sin. I had the joy of baptizing 9 children just a couple weeks ago and although some could not fully articulate their experience, they could testify to a 2Corinthians 5:17 moment in their lives.

  21. I think you’re focused on the wrong issue. Whether or not this is a trendy, or relevant thing to do shouldn’t inform the discussion. A very real point of contention with regard to the ‘sinner’s prayer’ for children is not a sociological objection, but a theological implication: If a ‘sinner’s prayer’ is a way in which we identify our moment of redemption, conversion, etc. does that mean that young children who do not pray this prayer are outside of grace?

  22. Just curious … What verbiage do you use when praying the Sinners Prayer with your kids? Say … for the 6~8 yrs and the 9~12 yrs age groups … Bearing in mind that there has to be a difference in the level of comprehension between a 6 yr old and a 12 yr old.
    I agree with you about the “Jesus in my heart” thing but I’m looking for a good, short, cover all the bases, but not too wordy, prayer that might be an improvement on the one I and my volunteers use now [:-)
    Creativity is fine but plagiarism is so much faster !!! Thanks.
    Good article BTW.

  23. Bruce, I gave a sample “sinner’s prayer” in this podcast on Leading Kids to Christ:

  24. For further info on this topic, you may enjoy the podcast I did awhile ago in Leading a Child to Christ:

  25. Another thought for those who have concerns about a “point” of decision – the Bible lists as many as 38 things that happen when we are saved, many of them can only happen at a point in time, and are permanent. I don’t see how your name can be written in the Book of Life over time – God doesn’t add one letter a year until you are saved, He writes it there when you are saved. Scripture says we are transferred from the dominion of darkness to the dominion of Light – not sure how that can be phased in, you are in one or the other. There is no Dominion of Sorta Dark and Sorta Light. There are countless examples of this. Now, for those who don’t KNOW that moment, that isn’t important – God knows exactly when it was – if someone’s faith is in Christ alone for their salvation and not based at all on their behavior/good deeds/anything else – that is the essence of salvation. I’ve encouraged people to make a commitment to remove any doubt, but often I believe they were probably saved in the past, but like marriage, there needs to be a “I do” moment for the relationship to be valid. I know many men who forget their anniversary – but I think they are still married. :)

  26. I agree with you that we must continue bringing Children to JESUS, and allowing Children the freedom to accept JESUS CHRIST as their LORD and Saviour.
    I am the founder member and Pastor of u21church as GOD called us to take care of HIS CHILDREN.

    We are a unique Church that invites CHILDREN to come to JESUS as their LORD and SAVIOUR and where adults come to serve.

    We believe that the future of the world is in the hands of GOD who guides HIS CHILDREN to solve the mess we as adults have made using our gift of free will.

    Friends sadly many leaders in the Church have lost direction by not having Children’s Ministry, and secondly making it a little off spring ministry to take care of the children so that parents can go to church.

    Friends we need to turn the CHURCH upside down and make CHILDREN the focus of the CHURCH and work by FAITH, and not allowing tithes and offering being our main focus to fund these large adult churches doing feel good services. Children are the core foundation of the CHURCH and we must build the CHURCH with CHILDREN as directed by GOD.

    May the LORD GOD guide us in HIS TRUTH daily.

    COOL with us.
    Pastor Gavin

  27. Good discussion. Here are 5 questions I think parents (and CM workers) should ask before a child (before the teen years) makes the most important decision of their life:
    1. Have they studied (and learned) intently?
    2. Do they feel guilt from sin and love of God? (If I had to only suggest 1 of these questions, this would be it.)
    3. Are they persistent?
    4. Are they mature enough with their cognitive abilities?
    5. Have your received input from Godly leaders?
    I flesh these out here –

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