I am not by nature a numbers kind of guy. If I had known you could drop Maths in year 11, I would have done so. I am more of an arts and history kind of guy.
So you may be surprised to hear that a few key numbers played a large part in my decision to take on the role as Youthworks College Principal.
The first number is 300,000 — roughly the number of children born each year in Australia for the past few years.
We are in the middle of the biggest baby boom since the post-war boom. I think it was Peter Costello who said that we were to have one for the country … and apparently the people listened.
I’m sure you can see the impact around you as new schools and classrooms are being built to cope with the increasing numbers.
This is an enormous mission field for the gospel, let alone an opportunity to nurture the children of believers born amongst that number. All of these young people matter to God.
The second number is 75 — roughly the percentage of believers who report coming to Christ before the age of 18.
I remember hearing a missionary speaker saying we should forget about the so-called 10-40 window, those degrees of longitude where missionary endeavor ought to be focused.
Instead, he suggested we concentrate on the 5-15 window, the ages where most people are saved. I don’t know why or how this is the case, but it certainly seems that young people matter to God.
The third number is 35—roughly the percentage of people who start out on the Christian faith but have left by the age of 18.
Some surveys report that the number rises to around 70% by the age of thirty. There are several cliffs along the way; usually at transition point like primary to high school; high school to further study or work.
Is this a fact of life or should we be seriously thinking about this … seriously! The fact is we know some of the factors that can (humanly speaking) work to alleviate this attrition rate and yet I’m not sure we’re doing enough about it.
Closing the backdoor (or is it the trapdoor?) is a vital part of the church’s ministry. Of course we want to seek and save the lost but we also have a responsibility to try to retain those who start with us. Young people matter to God.
I said I am not very good at Maths, but these numbers helped me to see afresh the importance of children’s and youth ministry; to understand that young people matter to God.
Now one thing I also know about numbers is that after a while they make your eyes glaze over. People get suspicious if you quote too many numbers and statistics. So I am going to stop right here.
I found these three numbers compelling. They point to an ocean of need; a significant window of opportunity; and a real calamity. I think they also point to the need for solid and sustained children’s and youth ministry because young people matter to God. And they matter now.
Written by Dr Bill Salier: Bill is Principal of Youthworks College and Director of Theology.