Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) is an international Christian ministry focused on evangelizing children. CEF was founded in 1937 by Jesse Irvin Overholtzer, who felt called by God to reach children with the gospel message.
The core belief of CEF is that children are more receptive to the gospel than adults. CEF aims to reach children at an early age before they become engrained in sinful lifestyles and secular worldviews. Their motto is “Evangelize children. Establish them in the Word of God and in a local church for Christian living” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
CEF operates on the belief that all people are sinners and separated from God. But through trusting in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, anyone can be reconciled to God and receive eternal life (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, John 3:16). CEF teaches that faith in Christ is the only way to be saved (Acts 4:12).
The main program of CEF is the 5-Day Club, which are after-school Bible clubs typically held in homes, backyards, schools, and community centers during school breaks. Children gather for 1-2 hours per day for 5 days where they are taught Bible stories, sing songs, play games, and more. The goal is to present the gospel clearly and give children an opportunity to trust Christ as Savior.
In the 5-Day Club, CEF missionaries and volunteers use the Wordless Book to explain the gospel message. This book uses different colors to represent Biblical truths:
- Gold page – God created a perfect world (Genesis 1)
- Dark page – People disobeyed God and need a Savior (Romans 3:23)
- Red page – Jesus died to pay the penalty for sin (Romans 5:8)
- White page – When we trust Jesus, He washes our sins away (Isaiah 1:18)
- Green page – Whoever believes in Jesus lives with Him forever in Heaven (John 3:16)
At the end of the 5-Day Club, children are given an opportunity to accept Christ. CEF missionaries and volunteers follow up with any child who made a decision to ensure they grow in their newfound faith.
In addition to 5-Day Clubs, CEF also offers the following programs:
- Good News Clubs – After-school Bible clubs hosted in public elementary schools
- Truth Chasers Clubs – Bible clubs for middle school and high school students
- Fair Ministry – Evangelism outreach at county fairs and community events
- Camp Good News – Evangelistic summer camps for children
- CYIA (Christian Youth In Action) – Discipleship training for teenagers
CEF is an interdenominational ministry and works in cooperation with local churches. While CEF focuses on evangelism, follow-up and discipleship are done in partnership with local churches. CEF aims to see children placed in Bible-believing churches.
All CEF workers, whether paid missionaries or volunteers, must agree to the CEF Statement of Faith which affirms:
- The Bible as the inspired, infallible Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16)
- The Trinity – God eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19)
- The deity of Jesus Christ and His virgin birth (John 1:1,14)
- Christ’s sinless life, miracles, substitutionary death, bodily resurrection, and ascension (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
- Salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9)
- The physical return of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:11)
- Satan exists as a real and personal being (Isaiah 14:12-14)
- The creation and fall of man (Genesis 1-3)
- The ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17)
- Heaven and hell as literal places (Revelation 20:11-15)
CEF takes this statement of faith seriously and aims to have Biblical fidelity in all of its teachings. Workers are expected to teach only what aligns with CEF’s statement of faith.
Child Evangelism Fellowship is headquartered in Warrenton, Missouri and is active in most countries around the world. As of 2022, CEF has around 300,000 volunteers worldwide and has reached over 25 million children with the gospel. Some key facts about CEF include:
- Founded in 1937 by Jesse Irvin Overholtzer
- Reached its first child for Christ in 1938
- Began its flagship 5-Day Club program in 1946
- Officially established as a mission organization in 1950
- Expanded to all 50 states in the U.S. by 1960
- Active in over 190 countries today
- Runs over 32,500 5-Day Clubs per year globally
- Reached over 300 million children since its founding
- Has staff proficient in over 170 languages for ministry
- Trains all workers in ministry methods and theology
- Relies on donations and support from churches/individuals
CEF has been widely recognized for its evangelistic effectiveness and steadfast adherence to Biblical principles. Notable characteristics of the ministry include:
- Laser focus on child evangelism – CEF has always concentrated on the 4/14 Window, realizing children are strategic.
- Gospel-centric – Presenting the gospel is central in all activities and programs.
- Bible-based – Everything is grounded in a biblical worldview and Scripture.
- Local church partnerships – CEF supplements but does not replace the local church.
- Interdenominational – CEF works within many denominations unified in gospel purpose.
- Volunteer-driven – Hundreds of thousands volunteer time, resources, and energy.
- Decentralized structure – Local chapters carry out the work with lots of flexibility.
- Training and accountability – Workers are screened, trained, and given standards.
- Evangelism process – A clear process used to communicate the gospel and call for decisions.
- Follow-up and discipleship – Ensuring decisions stick through church partnerships.
Since its founding, CEF has had its share of controversies as well. Some of the main criticisms against CEF include:
- Questions about methodology – Is their direct evangelistic approach manipulative for children?
- Rejection in schools – Many public schools have banned or restricted CEF due to complaints.
- Rejection by churches – Some churches avoid CEF due to evangelistic methods.
- Legal challenges – CEF has faced lawsuits over access to schools and public lands.
- Perceptions of extremism – CEF’s literal biblical stance is considered too fundamentalist by some.
- Lack of oversight – As volunteers run most ministries, quality control is difficult.
- Narrow theology – Some say CEF curriculum lacks depth and balance.
- Cultural adaptability – Can foreign cultures relate to CEF’s Western-based material?
- Sustainability of decisions – Critics assert many “decisions” do not last.
- Disconnection from churches – Follow-up links to local churches can be inconsistent.
CEF maintains that their methodology is Biblically based, legally sound, and culturally adaptable. Their commitment is to preach the gospel even if some reject the message. While CEF acknowledges room for improvement in follow-up and quality control, they do not believe they have been unethically manipulative or coercive, but rather persuasive in calling children to faith.
In summary, Child Evangelism Fellowship is an 80+ year old ministry focused wholly on evangelizing children worldwide. Their motivating beliefs are that all people are lost in sin, children are receptive to the gospel, and receiving Christ by faith is necessary for salvation. CEF utilizes in-school and after-school programs to reach children with Bible teaching and the message of Christ’s redemptive work. They equip Christians and churches to evangelize children and make disciples. Despite criticisms, CEF continues to advance its mission of seeing every child reached with the opportunity to trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.