Over the last 27 + years that I have served the Lord in children’s ministry, God has shown me how critical it is to be intentional about ministry to preteens. What decades ago became apparent to church leaders and parents regarding teen ministry now needs to be apparent to church leaders and parents regarding preteens. Preteens are capable of abstract thought and can understand adult concepts. They are internally questioning everything they’ve been taught. It is the ideal time to reinforce their Bible knowledge with answers about why God’s Word can be trusted in every aspect of their lives, to build deeper relationships with peers, leaders, and parents, and to make their faith their own.
Apologist Josh McDowell in a 2013 “Christian Post” article said, “Twenty years ago, the phrase was, ‘If you don’t reach a young person by 18, you probably won’t reach them. Now, atheists and agnostics have the same access to your kids as you do; it’s just one click away. The Internet has leveled the playing field, and now if you don’t reach a child by their 12th birthday, you won’t reach them.”.
2 Timothy 3:14-15 says: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”.
Use It or Lose It! Kids may lose their early spiritual foundation if it is not used and reinforced. “The Journal of Adolescent Health” states that “Throughout childhood and into adolescence, the cortical areas of the brain continue to thicken as neural connections proliferate. In the frontal cortex, gray matter volumes peak at approximately 11 years of age in girls and 12 years of age in boys, reflecting dendritic overproduction. Subsequently, rarely used connections are selectively pruned making the brain more efficient by allowing it to change structurally in response to the demands of the environment.”
Preteens are in a time of transition in every aspect of their lives! At this age, transition is the key factor. Preteens do not feel like kids and are not yet teens because they are in transition physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, and spiritually. What many children’s ministry leaders feel is disruption to their class is actually a huge opportunity for the church to meet the spiritual needs of preteens at arguably, the most critical time in their lives.
1 Peter 3:15 teaches, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”.
An effective preteen ministry should include:
- a focus on apologetic teaching in an engaging, fun, and interactive way so students get excited about their faith, make their faith their own, and become equipped to effectively engage those who believe differently. Areas to be addressed would include:
- how to interpret Scripture for themselves (context, grammar, etc.)
- who God is (attributes/character) & correcting common misconceptions.
- how recent scientific discoveries support the Flood and biblical teaching (biology, zoology, genetics, geology, astronomy, archaeology, etc.).
- how Jesus is found in the whole Bible from Creation and how He fulfills the elements of the Tabernacle.
- what it means to follow Jesus (how to tap into supernatural joy, peace, strength, grace, wisdom, and how testing and trials build a mature faith).
- how Christianity differs from all other religions and finding common ground to begin conversations.
- how God has worked through ordinary people since the beginning of human history and how this is their time in history.
- how God has gifted them to serve Him and others.
- about spiritual warfare and how to be victorious.
- events for fun and to serve God & others and deepen peer relationships:
- serving food together at local senior center.
- ice skating, trampoline park, mini golf, go-carts, hiking, movie and/or game night, scavenger hunt, etc.
- helping at local food bank.
- preteens helping together at events already offered to local community.
- preteens planning, praying for, & implementing a fun night for younger kids with leaders available to encourage and support.
- create way for preteens to help together at existing church events.
- provide training for preteens to serve on a kids’ worship team, with tech needs, in classes with younger kids, with setup or cleanup needs, as part of a greeting team, etc.
- a team of committed leaders who will build relationships with them, leaders who:
- love Jesus and Scripture.
- grasp God’s vision for investing in the next generation.
- can enjoy students who are in a time of transition in their lives, creating an atmosphere where students feel love and acceptance and have a place to belong – even when they are silly, squirmy, or blurt out answers or questions.
- recognize parents as the primary spiritual leaders and actively partner with them for the benefit of the kids.
- lead a weekly life group or Bible study for preteens, giving students a place to belong with game & hang-out time, deeper teachings, interactive discussion/questions, and prayer time.
- are available to organize, host, and/or attend preteen events on a regular basis (scroll up for ideas).
- provide opportunity for a panel of elders & church leaders to answer questions from preteens.
- provide opportunities for preteens to hear from missionaries.
- partner with youth leaders and parents to facilitate smooth transition to youth ministry.
In praying for God to show me why so many kids who grew up in the church were leaving as young adults or sooner and in seeing their excitement when I shared with them what I was learning about recent scientific evidence that supported the biblical account, the importance of equipping kids to have answers before they enter youth group became clear to me. Our culture is changing rapidly. The time is now to meet the needs of preteens by equipping them with the knowledge and confidence to stand firm in their faith and by preparing them to engage their world with the life-saving eternal message of hope through the sacrifice and victory of Jesus Christ.