Let me start by saying that I am no expert. I fail more times than I succeed, in ministry and in life. The only thing I can say for certain is that God has laid a great passion for preteens on my heart, and I’m doing my best to find ways to connect with them and share God’s Big Story with them.
I have learned from much wiser people that if you want to connect with preteens, you need to…
1. Be Authentic
Increases in technology and social networking means that preteens are “always on”. They share everything that goes on in their lives—good and bad. They value this sort of transparency in others. In ministry, it’s important that we not try to hide our failures from this generation. Rather, we should be teaching through those experiences and sharing how Scripture is leading us. Sharing about experiences—good and bad—from a Biblical perspective is a great way to connect with preteens.
How do you share with preteens what God is doing in your personal life?
2. Be Engaging
Let’s face it; if we try as the church to entertain preteens then we will fail miserably. Technology is advancing at such a rate that even the top Fortune companies can’t stay relevant. So if we can’t be entertaining, then what do we do? We become engaging. Preteens want to be heard. They want to share their thoughts and ask their questions. To be engaging means that we will commit time to listen to them and relate to them. This commitment furnishes us the credibility and opportunity to share what Scriptures says on the subject. If we want to connect with preteens, we have to go to a deeper level and engage them in these types of conversations.
How do you engage preteens in Scripture-centered conversations?
3. Be Productive
The scarcest of resources for everyone is TIME. Preteens are no different. They are as over-committed and over-involved as any generation in history. The question for the church is: how do we package the message of the Gospel to be as important as we know it actually is? I’m admittedly a “fly-by” kind of guy. This has been a challenge for me. The reality is that we need to have a strategy for every second we spend with preteens so that we can communicate the truth of Scripture. If you’re planning an event for preteens or your weekly service for preteens—ask what makes it worth attending and be sure to communicate that to preteens. The Gospel is powerful and effective, and the message doesn’t need to change. However, our methods must always be changing to assure that the time we are asking preteens to give us is filled with life-changing dialogue.
What is your strategy to keep your ministry time as productive for preteens as possible?
4. Be Available
But don’t smother. One of the reasons that I sensed God pulling my heart towards this season of life is because of their awkward position of wanting space and needing guidance. Up to this point, faith has been based mostly upon parental influence. As a preschooler and even early elementary years, kids model and follow the faith of their parents. For some reason and at some point, kids begin to question everything—including faith. It is imperative that we establish lines of communication with preteens so that they can feel safe to ask these questions. It is also imperative that we provide opportunities for them to wonder and discover faith for themselves. A great method is through service. By serving, preteens develop an understanding of what it means to BE the church and not just go to church. Will they make mistakes? Will they think they have answers and be totally wrong? Yes, probably. That is why we need to be available to step in and provide guidance. One of the greatest things we can do for preteens is to provide them with space to take ownership of their faith.
How are you encouraging preteens to take ownership of their faith?
5. Be an Example
This just goes without saying. Other than the early years of a child’s life (0-3 years), the preteen years are the most foundational years for personality and faith. All of the other four points really boil down to this one. Preteens need to see how Jesus Christ can change their lives. The best way to communicate this is not with our words, but with our actions. We need to model spiritual disciplines such as prayer, worship, Scripture study, and service. Mark Matlock (@markmatlock) spoke at Orange ‘11 on this same subject and he shared a great line. He said, “We summarize Scripture more than we read Scripture. And when kids tell us about an issue in their life, we tell them that we will pray for them instead of stopping right then and actually praying with them.”
In what ways are you providing opportunities for examples in your ministry environments?
I’d love to hear your feedback and experiences. Leave comments or questions on the blog. You can also follow the RSS feed for this blog and/or follow me on twitter @Pastor_MattMo