Darsen Sowers on the importance of reaching the 4-14 window.
Darsen Sowers is a Kid’s Worship leader at Reimage Church in Greenville, NC. He has written music specifically geared for children ages 3 to 10 and has a passion for reaching the next generation with the message of Jesus. On today’s podcast we talk about the importance of reaching the “4-14 window” and how creative programming can aid that effort. This podcast is perfect for the church leader looking to make an impact with families.
Interview Highlights //
01:00 // Darsen formally served as a music minister, currently he is a leader in kids ministry
01:30 // At Darsen’s church parents are required to volunteer at least once a month
03:25 // Darsen explains the 4-14 Window
03:51 // 71% of Christians made a decision between the ages of 4-14 years old
04:52 // Hot concrete and jello molds
07:15 // Adding to the interactive design of Kidmo
09:40 // Song as a great way to memorize Scripture
14:52 // Darsen compares a longterm financial investment to an investment in young children
18:12 // Wise to encourage men to volunteer in kids ministry
21:30 // Rich shares about the impact ‘Boys Camp’ worship has had on his son
Lightning Round Highlights
Inspiring Leader // James Dobson
What does he do for fun? // Super Stick Man Golf, Ultimate Frisbee, writing kids music
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Well, happy Thursday everybody. Welcome to the unSeminary Podcast. So glad that you’ve decided to spend some time with us as we head into this weekend and look to serve and care for and love the people at your church. Thank you so much for tuning in. Today we have a real treat. We have Darsen Sowers on the line with us from North Carolina. Darsen, welcome to the show.
Darsen – Glad to be here Rich. Thanks!
Rich – I’m looking forward to learning more about you and about your ministry and hopefully challenging us to think about an area of ministry that we don’t talk a lot about at unSeminary, but I’m pumped to hear what you have to say. Darsen, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, your back ground. Let’s start there.
Darsen – Sure. Well I’ve been involved with lots of facets in church for some time. I started as a music minister when I was 20 and served in various small churches. But I went to school. Got an accounting degree worked in Big Five Public Accounting. I was always involved in church at some level. Involved in the worship teams, ministering to adults in what I call big church. And my wife and I we have three boys. At our church there is this requirement that if you drop your kids off at youth services than you need to volunteer once a month in some capacity. At least someone in the family. So my wife had always done that. And on our last child I decided that I would take care of this responsibility for our family and was all pumped up to change diapers. I got there to the two year old class and they said, ‘No, no, no, we don’t let guys change diapers. We have a policy against that.’ Listen, it’s a crazy world right, so parents are weary about those types of things. So I was on board with it, it didn’t bother me to much.
Rich – Exactly. No that’s fine. I agree with that policy. Sounds like a policy written by guys.
Darsen – I told my wife. I will gladly take this sacrifice for our family and serve in that capacity. So that’s really what has blossomed into what my focus has been the last three or four years. This focus on Kid Min. What I like to call, and what everyone is calling now the ‘4-14 Window.’ I’ll talk a little bit more about that later in the interview. I have always been an lay minister. I believe strongly in lay ministry type work. We can’t let the pastors do it all.
Rich – Exactly.
Darsen – So that’s kind of where I am now. What’s most important in my lay ministry. That’s me in a nut shell.
Rich – Nice. So why don’t we start with the 4-14 Window. Why are you so passionate about it?
Darsen – Well, you know, there’s a lot of stuff going on. Dick Gruber mentioned this sometime ago in one of his interviews or one of his books. He doesn’t claim authorship of it, but it’s relay kind of set into this new wildfire so to speak. So there’s this new website called 4to14window.com. I am not affiliated with it and I have only recently come across their particular passion in ministry, but the substance of what they talk about is how important that window is between the ages of 4 and 14. They say that 71% of Christians that come to know God, come to do so in that window of 4-14. And 10 % of children between 15-19 come to know Christ. The rest, the other 21% are adults, those over 20. And we spend a lot of time and focus on the over 20, throughout the country. But that is such a crucial window, this 4-14 Window. Many churches have great programs for 6,7,8,9 and 10. Puppet shows, great music, the world of audio visual arts has just exploded. There is so much stuff for kids. So this particular age group, this 4-14 has become really passionate for me. So it all started with a vision that I had and it was a vision…I grew up in this town called Bakersfield, California. It’s very hot and it’s very dry, 114 degree summer days.
Rich – Oh my goodness, crazy.
Darsen – And I remember sitting out besides he pool and you would spill a glass of ice water and immediately that glass of water would just evaporate.
Rich – Wow!
Darsen – Splatter, and just evaporate. It would just penetrate the concrete and then there was nothing to show for it. So I had this vision of me being poured out on to hot concrete, and the next vision I had was me being poured into jello molds. And so I prayed and said, “Lord, I don’t know what this means.’ So I interpreted it and felt like the Lord was leading me to start pouring my life into things that were more moldable. So I really kind of caught a vision for kids at that point. You know, in comparison to adults, it is far easier, it takes fare less time, less resources to make a meaningful impact on a child, than it does to make an impact on an adult. Which is probably why 71% come to know Christ in that window. Even though we only spend, I think statistics say church spend about 3% of their budget.
Rich – Oh wow!
Darsen – On that group of children. On that group. That demographic. That’s kind of the vision for why I got involved with what I was doing, and as i began to explore that, understand, and learn more about his movement, learn how important it is at this age. I started working in, I talked a little bit about how I started volunteering, one of the things, the first thing I noticed, and we have a great church, but the first thing I noticed our church, for our 3, 4 and 5 year olds, we would just sit them in front of this really great curriculum on television. This DVD. And the kids would watch it. Now, it was designed to be interactive in the same way that Dora the Explorer is interactive. I can’t remember the guys name who does it. It’s Kidmo, and he’s very interactive with the kids, but in many cases the kids were unengaged. And so our kids grew up on these things called Baby Einstein.
Rich – Absolutely.
Darsen – Several years ago there was this lawsuit. Parents were suing Baby Einstein because it was causing some developmental issues with their children and one of their caveats for getting out of this lawsuit was, ‘Listen, our program was not designed for you to sit your kids in front of. Our program was designed for you to interact with your kids, and watch with your kids.’ Look at the window, or look at the wind and look at the flowers. I remembered that and I watched these kids interact with Kidmo and I thought well why aren’t we engaging with these kids with this? I just started engaging. I was like the second Kidmo guy. I would just stand up there in front of the TV and just repeat what he said. I would sing the songs along with him, encourage them to moo. It exploded into something that the kids got more out of it. They were remembering their verses longer.
Rich – Interesting.
Darsen – So I kind of felt that maybe that should have been a caveat when he released these videos. These are designed for adult involvement. So when you start to think about that 4-14 Window, I really feel like we do a lot of work to focus on the 6-14, but no body is focussing on the 4-14. So in my church, and in my community where I am planted, I am going to be the one who focusses on that 4-5. I really focus on 3, 4 and 5 year olds. Leading worship. That’s where I am coming from.
Rich – Ya, why don’t you tell us about where your thinking has evolved, what you’ve done has evolved from being the second guy Kidmo guy to what you are doing today. What’s that process look like?
Darsen – Well, you know it started very slowly and it happened what I like to think of, organically. It wasn’t something, 10 years ago, 5 years ago I would have though, I am going to create kids praise and worship CD. That’s my ministry and I am really ministering to 3, 4 and 5 year olds every Sunday morning. It wasn’t what I envisioned. It just sort of happened. It kind of grew and you know I’ve found music to be a really great way to memorize scripture. You can think of verses that you have memorized that go back to when you were a child, but you remember it because it was fed through song. Or even in your adult life you learn memory verses. I can still remember some of that stuff in the 80’s. ‘There is therefore, now no condemnation…’ All these songs that are out there. So those are impactful verses that have helped me in my life. So we started with a song call the ‘Fruit of the Spirit.’ The kids went wild, they loved it. So in two weeks time they started, they knew the Fruit of the Spirit. I was 37 years old before I new all the Fruits of the Spirit. Or maybe earlier than that. Maybe the Steven Curtis Chapman song helped. But before then it just wasn’t something I committed to memory. Days of Creation. I couldn’t remember what happened on 3 or what happened on 6 or what happened on 4. I think I knew 6 because that was the day we were made but anyway, so starting to create songs that went along with the Bible Lesson, or helped the kids. So I would just start writing songs and eventually the parents started asking, “My kids keep singing these songs. We want a copy of it.’ I didn’t have copies of it. So it really just kind of blossomed into that as far as what I am doing there. But I have seen the importance of this because I’ve seen the impact I have had on these kids. It wasn’t too long after that, that a friend of mine was arrested. I went to the county webpage that you can see. If you’ve ever done that, you have a friend that get’s arrested, they have a page that you can see. “Oh they got arrested!’ And I went to the website and I saw all these very hard, criminal type people. Some with tattoos on their neck, very hard looking men. Some smiling, some not smiling. probably not their best day right? But I began to see, I don’t know if you remember that old Michael Jackson video where the faces started to morph.
Rich – Absolutely…’Black or White.’ I think that’s what it was.
Darsen – The great thing about my church, I go to this really great church that is black and white and it’s one of the reasons why we go there. It’s one of the reasons why we love it. I like the diversity. But I started seeing these black and white people on this website morph into the kids in my 3, 4 and 5 year old class. It really occurred to me that at one point, that guy with tattoos all down his neck, gold teeth, very hard looking with his furrowed eyebrows, that he was 6 years old once and somebody took his crayons and he cried, and he was upset. And throughout his life he was given opportunities, challenged with circumstanced and he didn’t have an appropriate way to turn. Maybe it started at 6 years old. Maybe it started at 7, 8, 9, and 10 but there was nothing implanted in that person to give them another option. So I really feel that that’s kind of the big piece of what I am doing. When you are involved in Kid Min and kids now a days are challenged with some difficult situations that we never could see about 10 years ago, or even 20 years ago, especially 30 years ago.
Rich – Right, absolutely.
Darsen – They have some tough circumstances that they have to overcome, so having God’s word in their heart….one of the songs we sing is ‘A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.’ I cry like a baby during the bones part and make a real ham of myself but it’s impactful for the kids. One of the kids was at a grocery store, his mom was getting medicine and he told her, ‘Mom, you don’t need medicine, you just need a joyful heart. You don’t need Advil.’ But the great thing is that these kids know at this age that if I am joyful, it can be like good medicine and help me. So we sing another song called ‘J-O-Y’. J is for Jesus, O is for others, Y is for you. ‘J is for Jesus, O is for others, Y, yi, yi, yi is for you.’ And the kids love it, but it reached very fundamentally that Jesus comes first, others come second and you come third. And you start to implant these things in children at a young age and it starts to become how they are wired. It’s really evolved into something, not just fun Sunday time, I’ve been planting something that is going to help these children in the future.
Rich – Absolutely. Well, what would you say…so the church leaders that are listening, maybe three or 4 things…’OK yes we want to do a better job impacting 4-14, maybe even through music, what are a few things, a few handles we should try to be encouraging in our churches?
Darsen – I went to a conference where Perry Noble spoke. One of the things he talked about is the investment feature. I am an accountant. I am not a CPA, but I work with a lot of CPA’s. I work for a large forklift manufacturer. One of the things I know is how important it is to start your 401K when you are 16 years old. You put $2000 in when you are 16 years old, you never have to touch it again. But if you are like me, like most folks you don’t start until you are 35 and you start loading it up. $2000 that you invested when you are 16 is going to be worth far more than I could ever even amass starting at 35. And it’s that important of the time value of where you are investing.
Rich – That’s good. You look at churches and what they are investing in. And you look at the resources of that it takes to lead someone to Christ. You’ve got to have these nice, in big church, you’ve got to have nice lights, really good musicians, some churches have to pay musicians. And you know you have people who are talented in their speaking, talented in their singing. Really great audio visual behind the scenes, and it takes all this money and resources. On the child side of it, not to say that you can get away cheaply, but the truth is, you can. If you could pour those resources into, pour more resources into churches like ‘Kids on the Move’ and these folks who they’ve decided they are going to pour all of their resources into this age group, right? It has dividends. It pays for itself. In 15 years, these kids grow up to be your youth pastors. These kids grow up to be people serving in your church, your lay ministers. Lay ministry is a very powerful portion of your church. Pastors can’t do it all. You have to rely on lay ministers to visit families, visit hospitals, even to preach, right? So Perry Noble talked about, it is the best investment a church can make by pouring money into small kids programs. But we rely a lot on volunteers and people who don’t really want to be there because they have to fulfill and obligation. I submitted my kids so I have to come. So my wife, who spends all week long with the kids, gets to go to church on Sunday and spend time with other people’s kids. Not that she doesn’t love kids, but it’s not what she’s looking forward to. It’s not the highlight of her weekend. And granite, we have to have an ability and mentality to serve in any circumstance, right? But I found one of the great things that pastors can do from the pulpit is really infuse that area of ministry with cash, straight cash, money for stuff. And there’s so much great stuff out there and it really doesn’t cost much. CMD.com you’ve probably heard of. Christian Ministry Deals. Ridiculous curriculum for like nothing. And if you are ever driving through, they will feed you free tacos.
Rich – Nice.
Darsen – But that was one thing. The second thing that I think would be important is to talk about the importance of having men volunteer with kids. Every once in a while a perfect Sunday comes together and it is all men in my 3, 4 and 5 year old class.
Rich – That’s cool. I love it.
Darsen – It has a whole other dynamic. Not better, not worse, just different dynamic. And some of those kids don’t have good fatherly influences consistent in their lives. And so I fell like we have the opportunity as men in the church to be that example, that place for that child to go when they don’t have that in their lives.
Rich – Absolutely. I just want to kind of underline two things you said there. First of all the spending issue with kids ministry / family ministry stuff. I absolutely agree. one of the things we have seen at our church, I would say over the last 4-5 years we have had pretty significant evolution in what’s happened in kids ministry. And a big part of that is simply saying to our team, ‘What is it that you need and how can we get if for you?’ The realty of it is, where you have folks that attend church regularly or don’t attend church regularly, they don’t wake up Monday morning or Tuesday morning, they don’t typically wake up wondering ‘What is my cosmic reality today?’ They don’t unfortunately, I know that. What they do wake up is worrying about their kids. They wake up thinking ‘Gosh, I don’t know how to parent my kids. I worry about my kids. I want to help my kids develop….’ Even people who don’t attend church…’I want my kids to develop some sort of moral fiber.’ And if you can provide compelling programs for them, it is a great way to grow your church. And I love what you are saying in the encouraging guys to serve thing! How has your church done that because that seems really unique to me that you would have a group of guys leading 3-5 year olds. That seems really unique. How have you done that?
Darsen – You know I think it just started with me. Getting involved. It wasn’t something that I wanted to do either but when I saw the impact it was having, it really kind of came from me encouraging other men that I knew that love to play with their kids. Guys love to play with their kids.
Rich – Ya, wrestling and all that stuff.
Darsen – Business types sit down and play wii with their kids. When I had the opportunity to, and I knew men who would get involved and love Jesus, I would encourage them, ‘You need to get involved in this. This is awesome. You will have such a blast. And you will be a great example for these kids, of godly men.’ And it’s really just caught on. Of course we’ve asked the pastor to address this issue from the pulpit and they oblige. But I would love to be able to do more video arts and put it in a nice package for them to see the impact that it truly has. But I think we are starting to understand that more as a church anyway.
Rich – Ya, my son, I have two kids, 11 and 13 and every summer they attend, it’s the same camp but they have Girls Camp and a Boys Camp. So it’s the same organization. It’s interesting because when I was younger I thought, that’s kind of weird, but it’s amazing seeing my son particularly, but it’s an amazing experience. One of the things I love, and it connects back to this conversation is first thing in the morning right after breakfast, there is a group of guys there that lead worship with all these boys. There’s 150 boys. Most of the guys that are running this camp are kind of late hight school and university. And it is rowdy, obnoxious, exciting worship. It is energetic. You walk in the room and you see, oh my goodness, here’s 150 boys fully worshipping the Lord. It’s exciting. I love that, I am going to confess, sometimes I think kids ministry worship stuff, particularly for guys that are getting a little bit older, that kind of 10, 11, it can be a lot of dancing stuff that doesn’t necessarily resonate with guys unfortunately right. I’m pretty sure this is targeted at a 4 year old girl and it just isn’t cool for my son. But to see guys up there leading is a big part of drawing those guys in.
Darsen – I agree. Whenever I do worship, I do a lot of worship for 3, 4 and 5 year olds, but whenever I go to churches, churches will have me come and do stuff, I always make sure if there are a lot of guys, we add a fist bump to a song.
Rich – Absolutely..totally. That’s great! This has been a great conversation. We are going to jump into the lightning round in a second. Is there anything else, I know there is a lot we could talk about, but is there anything else you want to make sure we cover before we jump into the lightning round?
Darsen – Ya, I would say one thing, and this is something I learned, I used to serve at a church in Amarillo, Texas. And there was a kids ministry guy there who was unbelievable. He got down at kid level anytime they asked him a question. He was in the 7-12 year old range, grade school to junior hight, but he interacted well with them. It’s amazing that even my little ministry that I have at my church, it encourages a lot of parents to come. So parents are coming to church because the kids want to go. The parents are on time because the kids want to be on time. So one of the things that was most impactful about this guy in Amarillo, Texas, was how much he loved doing this. My experience had always been that once you graduated from Seminary that you are a youth pastor or a junior hight pastor. And then you get to be a youth pastor and then you get to be an adult pastor, and then someday if you are lucky, you get to be senior pastor or go start your own church. So I said to him, ‘How long have you been doing kids ministry?’ He was an older guy, upper 40’s. “Aren’t you going to be stepping up to the senior pastor at some point or something like that?’ He goes, ‘This is it! This is where my ministry. This is where i am . I think it’s important to encourage people coming out of seminary and pastors in general, I totally understand why somebody would want to lead a church, even if you want to focus on kids because you can’t get those resources, you can’t get that focus out of the church unless you are the pastor, on some of those things. I think it’s important to know the difference between cutting your teeth, when you come out of seminary, you do need to cut your teeth on an audience that is more forgiving. You need to build some experience, and you need to build some wisdom, and youth ministry is a great place to do that. But at the same time, there are people who are specifically called to that until they are 65 years old! And that’s ok. And honestly in terms of making an impact for Christ, if 71% of people make a decision between that window, wouldn’t you want to stay there? Wouldn’t you want to stay and get that 71% and make that 71% a bigger piece of the kids who never get to know Christ in that timeframe, and who end up making decisions that ultimately lead to a life that’s not as joyful, not as fruitful. So that’s probably my biggest plea to people is to realize the value of that 4-14 Window. I like this website called 4to14window.com.