Last week, the Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF), the largest Christian ministry to children in the world, announced that "It has shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with a staggering 12.1 million children around the world in 2011. This is an 11% increase over the 10.9 million children reached in 2010 and marks the 12th consecutive year of growth for the ministry's outreach."
According to Tom Levanos, CEF executive director of operations, the 12.1 million is the number of children who have heard the gospel from a CEF worker or volunteer in person, through the CEF correspondence club, called the Truth Chasers Club, or through the CEF website, the Wonderzone.com. It does not include other media efforts such as mass literature distributions in Europe, Africa and the United States, a television show in Denmark called "GPS" and a satellite ministry in South Africa which reaches the entire African continent. While it is unknown exactly how many children are reached through CEF's mass media efforts, Levanos conservatively estimates that about six million children have been reached by those efforts.
The Wonderzone website includes games, cartoons depicting bible stories, music videos and a section titled "Know Jesus." "Sin is anything you think, say or do that does not please God, like lying, cheating, being selfish or hurting others. Sin can never be in Heaven," the children's site teaches. "The Bible says, 'all have sinned' (Romans 3:23). That means everyone, you and me too. Everyone is born with a 'want to' to do wrong. Nobody had to teach us how to disobey or to tell lies. God says that sin must be punished. The punishment is to be separated from God for ever in a place of suffering…a place called hell. That is what you and I deserve." It then promises children salvation because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. "If you are truly sorry for displeasing God by your sin, you can trust Jesus to make you clean for ever. You could tell Him something like this: 'Lord Jesus, I am sorry for my sin. Thank you for dying for me. Please help me to turn from my sin and make me clean before God.' If you trust Jesus, God sees you clean and pure because of His Son. You are ready to live in Heaven. Also, you receive God’s gift of everlasting life. The Bible says, 'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life' (John 3:16)." Children are taught that there are four things that they can do to grow as Christians: "(1) Pray: talk to God every day; (2) Read and obey the Bible; (3) Tell others about Jesus; and (4) When you sin, ask God for forgiveness."
Obedience is a large component in CEF teachings, it was reported last June. "The teaching materials emphasize absolute obedience to God and that non-believers deserved punishment," wrote Katherine Stewart, journalist and author of The Good News Club: The Christian Right's Stealth Assault on America's Children, who revealed that the CEF was teaching in its after school classes the story of the Amalekites, which has been used to justify genocide throughout the ages.
Good News Clubs offer a mix of engaging Bible instruction and good fun for elementary school children who are taught that one's faith in Jesus Christ is evident through loving others. Its emphasis on kindness and good behavior has met with resounding applause from public school principals who are working hard against bullying and other forms of aggression in their schools. CEF receives testimonies regularly about the positive impact GNCs have on schools, like this one from a principal of a public school in Chicago, Illinois: 'The Good News Club that you started here has been a resounding success. The children look forward to it and so do the parents. It is the best attended after school activity that we have. The character building aspect of your program has been in keeping with the vision of our school. The students are learning good moral behavior in a fun filled atmosphere. This has translated into a more positive atmosphere in the school among the students.' In the United States, GNCs meet in public schools after the school day is officially over.
In addition to meeting in public schools, the clubs meet once a week in a variety of venues including parks, churches, and backyards. Last year, CEF ran 42,312 GNCs worldwide, 28% increase over 2010. Mr. Levanos said that CEF does not keep track of the exact number of the tens of thousands of volunteers that run these clubs but they do keep track of the number of teachers they train. For each of the past eight years, they have trained over 250,000 teachers.
Not everyone agrees that the Good News Clubs are wonderful. In 2009, the Good News Club came to the public elementary school where journalist Katherine Stewart sent her children. The Club bills itself as an after-school program of 'Bible study.' But Stewart soon discovered that the Club’s real mission is to convert children to fundamentalist Christianity and encourage them to proselytize to their “unchurched” peers, all the while promoting the natural but false impression among the children that its activities are endorsed by the school. She set off on an investigation and in her book, demonstrates that there is more religion in America’s public schools today than there has been for the past 100 years. "The movement driving this agenda is stealthy. It is aggressive. It has our children in its sights. And its ultimate aim is to destroy the system of public education as we know it," the book warns. As previously reported, among other things, she found that:
- Good News Clubs, as characterized as separate from regular school activities, have had the effect of being a part of school activities because they are held in classrooms and some are taught by public school teachers, who tell children that if they do not believe in Jesus, they are going to hell. There is a bleeding of authority in children's minds because some Good News Club teachers are also classroom teachers.
- Children are encouraged to let other children know that they will be cut off from God and thrown into the lake of fire if they are not the right kind of Christian. The CEF statement of faith states, "That the souls of the lost remain after death in misery until the final judgment of the great white throne, when soul and body reunited at the resurrection shall be cast 'Into the lake of fire' which is 'the second death,' to be 'punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.'"
- Good News Clubs teach absolute obedience as the criteria for salvation, not good works.
- Minority faith groups are excluded and have nowhere near the power of the Good News Clubs. Parents do not receive adequate notice of the nature of the Good News Clubs.
- Parents have signed their kids up to Good News Clubs and their children come home, telling them that they are not going to the right church.