Child Evangelism Fellowship, also known as CEF, has been serving Lancaster County through its local chapter since 1944. The Bible-centered 501c3 organization was created to reach kids with the gospel of Jesus, to disciple them in the word of God, to connect them with a local, biblically rooted church, and to mentor them for Christian living.
CEF was founded in 1937 by Jesse Irvin Overholtzer. Overholtzer grew up in a religious family, and at the age of 12 he was convicted of his own sin and sought counsel from his mother. He was told that he was too young — but the call from the Lord came again when he heard the gospel in college, and he chose to put his trust in Christ as his savior.
Later in life, after Overholtzer had become a pastor, he read this statement in one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons: “A child of five, if properly instructed, can as truly believe and be regenerated as an adult.” Through this, the Lord called him to begin a ministry for children — and he did just that. At 60 years of age, he launched Child Evangelism Fellowship to reach unchurched children with the gospel and to offer training and support to strengthen the faith of children who believe. Now, CEF is the largest organization of its kind and is currently ministering in over 125 countries around the globe as well as in all 50 U.S. states. CEF has over 3,500 missionaries throughout the world, most of whom are native citizens of the places where they serve and some of whom came to Christ through CEF in their youth.
The Lancaster Patriot spoke with Lisa Kilgore, the director of CEF of Lancaster County, and Kathleen Walter, the chapter’s director of development, to learn more about the local outreach. The organization is hard at work to bring the light of the Word to the children of the community and, by extension, to their friends and family and the world beyond. That is why discipling children who come to faith in Christ is a vital part of CEF’s mission. “Our goal in discipling is that you’re going to have the desire, hopefully, to pass this on to your generation,” Kilgore said. “And it’s really exciting to watch kids evangelize other kids.”
CEF’s flagship ministries are its free after-school clubs: the Good News Club for elementary students, which includes Bible lessons, Scripture memorization, songs and missionary stories, and the JYou Connection (JYC) Club for middle schoolers, which focuses more on discipleship. Each club supports one of CEF’s missionaries, and the children are encouraged to pray for the missionary and to earn money themselves to support the missionary’s work — any contribution, even just a few cents, is welcomed warmly, because the children are learning the mindset of giving to and praying for the work of God. These clubs meet once a week, primarily in public school settings, and the clubs are kept at a 6-1 ratio between children and volunteers so that the leaders are able to form a genuine relationship with each student.
CEF also offers free summer ministries such as the 5-Day Club, a neighborhood-based program for elementary schoolers, who meet for 90 minutes each day for a week; vacation Bible schools, which in Lancaster are put on through partnerships with local churches; and Christian Youth In Action, a program that trains teams of teenagers and young adults to teach children about God, then deploys them to clubs and summer programs in the local community.
“One of my passions, and I think CEF has the same passion, is to raise up future leaders,” Kilgore said. Whenever children age out of CEF programming, they are welcome to keep participating as youth volunteers. CEF offers enjoyable, informational training designed specifically for youth, equipping children even as young as fifth grade to lead others. Some help out in the background, assisting the club leaders, but others take an active teaching role themselves, and some trainees are given small groups of younger children to lead. There are even paid teaching internships for older members who will run Good News Clubs while being mentored by CEF.
All of the programs combine biblical truth with fun activities, and each program requires parental permission for children to attend. Although the after-school clubs meet on public school grounds, they are not affiliated with or endorsed by the schools.
CEF partners with other Christian organizations, such as Answers in Genesis and Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree ministry, to advance the gospel and reach more people more effectively. For example, Answers in Genesis posts episodes of CEF’s Good News Club TV on AIG’s video-on-demand streaming platform for family-friendly and faith-related content. Collaborating with Angel Tree, which provides Christmas gifts as well as sponsorships to summer camps and sports camps to children whose parents are incarcerated, gives CEF a way to connect with some of the most at-risk children out there. Another partner is Moms in Prayer International, a grassroots organization with groups in more than 150 countries and the simple premise of mothers gathering together once a week to pray for their children, the friends of their kids, their children’s schools, and the teachers, staff and school administrators. Moms in Prayer serves alongside CEF through efforts like praying for the Good News Clubs and inviting the mothers of Good News Club members into the Moms in Prayer groups in their school districts.
As a nonprofit, CEF depends on fundraisers and financial gifts from the community to keep all of its programs open to children free of charge. Individuals and businesses can support CEF of Lancaster County with a one-time gift or recurring donations via check or via the online portal at ceflancaster.org/support. The chapter’s website also lists ways to support the ministry without giving directly, such as through AmazonSmile.
To find a Good News Club, go to ceflancaster.org/programs/good-news-club/locations. If your school district does not have any CEF clubs, you can reach out to CEF to see about starting your own. Walter began her work with CEF in that way. “I was with a group of moms through Moms in Prayer, and my neighborhood, we decided we were going to start a Good News Club at Landisville Intermediate Center,” she explained. She would love to see a group at every elementary school in Lancaster County, but that would require more volunteers and support. “The more volunteers we have, the more ministry we can do,” she said.
Volunteers are crucial to keep the programs running, and every volunteer must be thoroughly vetted to ensure maximum safety for the children. All staff and volunteers are screened with state and national background checks, and all volunteers must go through training prior to serving. Everyone is also required to attend refresher courses each fall and spring. To volunteer or to find out more, visit ceflancaster.org, call the office at 717-569-5412, or email Melinda Grant, the ministry coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The efforts of CEF in Lancaster County have brought many boys and girls to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and established them in local, Bible-believing churches, and those who have been saved have been discipled to be the hands and feet of Christ to their generation. But CEF knows that this work has only succeeded because of God.
“Prayer is the foundation of our ministry, and Jesus runs this ministry. We don’t,” Walter said. That is why the staff meet every morning to pray for specific needs, for the direction they need to take, and for the volunteers and donors who help keep the ministry going.
Those who want to join the chapter’s prayer support team and receive monthly prayer emails can sign up via the “pray” button on the website’s homepage. There is also a quarterly newsletter, and newsletter subscribers receive a prayer calendar so they can be specific in how they pray for the ministry. “We love knowing that people out in the community are praying for us,” Walter said.