During the past 10 years the Seventh-day Adventist Church has targeted worldwide evangelism in the 10/40 window, a geographic rectangle located between 10 and 40 degrees north of the equator and extending from West Africa, through the Middle East, and into Asia. Millions of people with different ideologies who live in this region have not heard the name of Jesus. This mission emphasis has seen encouraging increases in the number of baptisms and in church growth through urban church planting, intentional programs for unreached people groups, and innovative and novel ministries to reach postmoderns.
If we correlate our statistics of growth and baptism with the fact that almost 70 percent of the world’s 4- to 14-year-olds live in the 10/40 window, we can begin to see the intersection of the 10/40 window and the 4/14 window.1 The 10/40 window is the geographical area with the greatest need and opportunity for sowing the gospel seeds; the 4/14 window is the demographic grouping that is the most receptive and moldable to any spiritual and developmental input.
Human developmental psychologists echo vehemently that there is no period in a person’s life that is more critical than the years represented by the 4/14 window. These are the most formative years when values, worldviews, and perspectives of life are shaped either positively or negatively. Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White reiterated the same passion when she said: “Too much importance cannot be placed on the early training of children. The lessons that the child learns during the first seven years of life have more to do with forming his character than all that it learns in future years.”2 She adds: “It is still true that children are the most susceptible to the teachings of the gospel; their hearts are open to divine influences, and strong to retain the lessons received.”3
Jesus’ Teaching About Children
Jesus recognized the importance of children and youth in His kingdom work. When He was asked by the disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child, whom He placed among them, and He said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:1-6, NRSV).*
Have we really listened to Jesus’ teaching about the place of children in the kingdom of God? Children model faith and discipleship by showing us adults how to humbly repent and trust in the God of salvation. When we welcome them, we are accepting and respecting them as Christ Himself. Notice that Jesus made it very clear that if we neglect and abuse them or turn them away from faith in Christ, we will face severe judgment from God Himself.
The 4/14 Age Group Around the World
A recent paper written by Christian pastor and strategist Luis Bush, who coined the term 10/40 window, reveals fascinating figures of the 4- to 14-year-olds worldwide. India, with 20 percent less population than China, has 30 percent more children and youth. This is because of China’s “one child” policy. Nigeria and Indonesia, with half the population of the United States, actually have more children and teens than does the U.S. In the United States, 25 percent of the nearly 42 million school-age children are Hispanic—though Hispanics comprise only 15 percent of the general population. And in Africa and Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and others, 40 to 50 percent of the population is under 15 years of age.4 Compare this to countries such as Germany (14.4 percent), Italy (13.8 percent), and so forth. It can be seen that the greatest population growth is found in what are considered the least developed and most conflicted countries of the world.
Sad to say, the 4- to 14-year-olds present us with some pressing realities. An alarming number of 4- to 14-year-olds in the 10/40 window are sexually exploited, forced into child labor, neglected, and emotionally abused. Many are deprived of basic education and health care. With such problems existing, we have the tendency to ignore or dismiss this as something we can’t help with, or we view those in the 4 to 14 age group as a problem to be endured.
Have we failed to grasp the immeasurable value of these precious young lives, made in the image of God? Have we forgotten that most people who will ever make a decision to follow Jesus will do so during the critical years of 4 to 14?
From a mission standpoint, our interest in the 4 to 14 age group is not only because they are receptive but also because they can become effective agents to carry the gospel commission. Once you tell a child, they tell another child, and eventually they tell the world!
In a three-year project called The Child in Law, Religion and Society, researchers urge leaders and others to reject the prevalent view that a child is a problem to be controlled. Instead, the authors advocate that adults ought to nurture wonder in children instead of adopting the philosophy of reductionism, which attempts to reduce a complex system to the sum of its parts. In this case, reductionism endeavors to categorize a child through various problematic elements.5
The 4/14ers in the Bible
Both the Old and New Testaments identified children and young people used by God to transform their world. The list includes fascinating individuals:
• Samuel was called by God as a child to deliver a difficult message to the high priest, Eli. He was open to God’s calling and was obedient to Him (1 Sam. 3).
• David was only a boy when he was chosen by God as the anointed king. Even his father didn’t consider him to be the likely candidate when Samuel came to choose the next king. And while he was a teenager, David fought the Philistine giant Goliath and brought victory to the Israelites (1 Sam. 17).
• The Little Maid was a captive working in the house of Captain Naaman. But through her faith she was able to ask the captain to request healing from the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 5).
• Jeremiah was chosen by God though he was “only a child” (Jer. 1).
• Esther, an orphan girl, was likely in her teens when she became a queen whom God used to save the Jewish people from destruction by the wicked Haman (Esther 2).
Throughout Scripture we see God entrusting particular truths to children or using them as His special instruments. God called a young girl, Ellen Harmon, to give inspired messages to the church, thus forming the Seventh-day Adventist Church. What about Jesus Christ Himself? He was about His Father’s business at the age of 12 in the Temple of Jerusalem, listening and asking questions of the Jewish teachers.
The Modern 4/14ers
Today’s 4/14ers are referred to as the “Internet generation.” They are the “digital kids,” “millennials who use iPhones,” “Facebookers,” and “YouTubers.” They don’t think twice about sharing their opinions with strangers—whom they call “friends”—online. Technology transforms their entire world, and traditional values face immense challenges in the digital world. The digital world provides our youth with access to a wide variety of cultural styles and values worldwide, thus even replacing long-held values or rejecting them altogether.
This is frightening and disheartening. It’s frustrating and often challenging. But those of us from the older generation need to reach this group of children and youth, the 4 to 14 age group. We must stay connected with them through information access and technology so as to lead them to Jesus Christ and harness their potential to transform their world.
It’s imperative that we see children and youth as a crucial, strategic force that can finish the task of the Lord. Ellen White said that “in the closing scenes of this earth’s history many of these children and youth will astonish people by their witness to the truth, which will be borne in simplicity, yet with spirit and power. . . . In the near future many children will be endued with the Spirit of God, and will do a work in proclaiming the truth to the world, that at that time cannot well be done by the older members of the church.”6
It’s time for our 10/40 window evangelism initiative to tag children as an unreached people group and for the church to become a part of a global move to bring children to Christ! It’s my plea that our leaders and other church members open their hearts and minds to the idea of reaching and raising up a new generation from within that vast group—a generation that can experience personal transformation and be mobilized as agents for transformation throughout the world. This relationship between the 10/40 and 4/14 windows should compel us to reprioritize and redirect our evangelism efforts to reach the most receptive group of children and youth today—the 4/14ers!
*Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of
the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
1 John W. Kennedy, “The 4-14 Window; New Push on Child Evangelism Targets the Crucial Early Years,” Christianity Today, July 2004.
2 Ellen G. White, Child Guidance, p. 193.
3 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 515.
4 Luis Bush, Raising Up a New Generation From the 4/14 Window to Transform the World, http://4to14window.com/4-14-window-booklet (accessed July 15, 2010).
6 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, pp. 166, 167.
Linda Mei Lin Koh is director of the General Conference Children’s Ministries Department. This article was published November 11, 2010.