Who Are Preteens?

by Kim Vaught

Here they come, but the problem is that we are often not ready for them. They’re either too old for Children’s Ministry or too young for Student Ministry. Ask a preteen and they will tell you that they are not children. Ask the Student Ministry leader and he/she will likely tell you preteens should stay in Children’s Ministry. So the question is “Who are preteens – children or students?” The answer is both and neither. Have I confused you yet? Preteen years are transitional. The situation begs an answer to these questions. How, as a church, are we addressing their needs? How are we ministering to them? Are they getting lost in the crowd? Do they feel like we care? Are they connected to our ministry?

First, as ministry leaders, we need to make sure we understand this demographic. Reading about the age group and observing their activities are great sources for insight. Each year I interview 6-7 preteens and video tape their responses to my questions. Each year, it is amazing how these interviews enlighten and entertain. There seems to be a common thread woven through these conversations.

Here are some of the questions I ask the kids:
– What do you miss most about Children’s Ministry?
– What do you like most or think about our Preteen ministry?
– What do you like about coming to church?
– What do you not like about coming to church?
– Would you invite your friends to church?
– What would you like to do to serve God?
– What is your favorite TV program?
– What kind of music do you like? Preteens are recognized in society as music consumers. They impact over $500 billion a year in music sales. Last year, I asked one 5th grader who his favorite artist is. He answered, “Johnny Cash.” Then he proceeded to sing part of “Burning Ring of Fire”. It was great!

These interviews are insightful and the common theme reveals that kids in this age group are learning how to get along with family, peers and the adults in their world while they strive for independence.

Here are some characteristics I have discovered in my years of working with preteens:
– They need to talk.
– They want to feel connected to peers.
– They need routine and clear limits.
– They can have dramatic mood swings.
– They desire independence from their parents but like to connect with other adults who are like their parents, possibly college-age adults.
– They move in and out of maturity levels – still a kid but wanting to be a teen.
– They shift between parent-given faith and personal faith.
– They often create an imaginary audience, assuming everyone is focused on them.
– They are extremely self conscious, but want your full attention.

Second, if church is the setting where we have the most interaction with preteens, have we provided them with a space that is relevant? Warehouse 56 is what we call our ministry for 5th & 6th graders. We have designated an area of the building for this age group and decorated accordingly. Your preteen area should communicate that preteens are important…that church is the place to be! You don’t have to have a huge budget to create a cool space. You might have to beg and plead for a room, but letting preteens know that you value them by giving them a room that they can call their own is important. Make it a place where they want to invite friends.

Here are six benchmarks to use to measure the effectiveness of your ministry:
1) Are these kids responding spiritually? Are they talking about the Lord? Are they engaged in worship?
2) Do I have a balanced program that includes: worship, biblical literacy, fellowship, and opportunities to serve?
3) Does our programming profile more than one kind of student? Are we gender friendly?
4) Are we culturally relevant? Does the ministry fit the culture of our community?
5) What are our transition percentages from Children’s Ministry to Preteen then Preteen to Middle School?
6) How does our preteen ministry support the overall church’s mission?

This receptive age group goes through many ups and downs, but they need to know that we value them, want to help them find their identity and that we empower them as children of God.

Kim Vaught, Children’s Pastor
Kim currently serves as the Children’s Pastor for Montgomery Community Church in Cincinnati, OH with an average weekly attendance of over 2,300.  Kim has over 17 years in full time ministry experience with a BA & MA in Religion.  Her easy going style, wacky sense of humor, and deep love for children enable her to effectively minister to kids. Contact:  [email protected]  Website:  www.crosstownkids.us

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