Archives For preteen ministry

One of the highlights of summer for me is getting to speak at children’s camps.  I love the energy. I love the worship times.  And I love talking with so many different churches and hearing what God is doing in their communities.

This past week, I was at a camp in Smackover, AR.  If’ you’ve never been through this booming metropolis, you’re missing out.  It has one stop-light that is anchored to a cement pylon in the middle of Main Street intersection.  It is definitely a site to see. 

 The town and most of south Arkansas for that matter has been hit really hard by the economic downturn.  And that has greatly affected churches.  But God is still doing some awesome things. As I went through the week, I noticed a few things that were very encouraging.

First, I noticed that these churches have instilled in their kids a high value for the Word of God.  These kids were quick to open to the Scripture that I was speaking from and they were eager to read along and make notes as we discussed.  It was awesome to see this generation so passionate about Scripture.

Second, I noticed that these churches are eager to minister to preteens.  Most of the churches in this region are rural, small, and old.  They average attendance is definitely well under 100, and most of the congregation is probably over 50.  Even if the majority is under the age of 50, the over-50 population is definitely footing the bill for ministry and thus making it tough to try new things.  But even still, these churches were open to new ideas and trying new methods to reaching the preteens in their community.  I sat down with the leadership of one church and discussed their ministry to preteens.  They wanted to ask me some questions and get some advice, but I definitely walked away feeling like they had taught me a thing or two.  Despite their size and their age, they had ventured into preteen ministry and were having huge success.  They were running a preteen worship service that was growing to be about 60% of their church population.  And they weren’t resting on that accomplishment!  Instead, they were asking “how do we take these kids and get them involved in Sunday School/Small Groups?”  It was awesome to see this passion for preteens.

And last, I recognized that God uses all ages to minister to preteens.  The awesome part of camp is seeing those that God has called into leadership at churches.  In one group you’ll have the 20-something college student who is full up bubbling energy that is like a super-hero to the kids, and in another group you’ll have the 80-something grandmother who is pouring out pounds of love on the kids in her group.  And God is using both of them to impact the lives of preteens.  I quickly realized that there is no “target demographic” when you’re looking for preteen leaders.  This age group responds well to young and old, and God will definitely use both to speak into their lives. 

I had an awesome time last week at camp.  I’m still recovering from the camp food, but I can’t wait to do it all over again next week!

It’s the time of year for every children’s ministry worker…you know, right?  It’s Volunteer Recruitment Time! Our church did an amazing job of educating the entire church body on service and calling them to commit to an area of service inside or outside the church.  It’s been amazing to watch people, young and old, step up to serve all across the church.

As I talked with those who have committed to serving in the preteen ministry, I’m trying a new approach.  Normally when we find a great volunteer with high leadership capacity, we hold onto that person for dear life and never let them graduate out of our ministry area.  I know that my tactic in the past was to push people into the holes that I thought needed to be filled rather than really listening to their heart and providing an opportunity to serve in the place that God is leading them.  This year is different.

My approach involves three things: vision, celebration, and a question.

I begin by casting the vision for what we want our preteen small groups to be.  And a HUGE part of that is calling the leaders to commit to spending two years with the same group.  We want them to at least spend the 5th and 6th grade years walking alongside the same group of boys or girls.  And instead of desperately trying to hold on to them, we encourage them to move into student ministry with their group.  We just believe that this will be the best setup for life-change in the lives of students.  But this takes a big decision and big commitment.  That leads perfectly to the next part.

To help them see why this is so important and why we are asking them to make such a big commitment, we celebrate leaders who have done so already.  We have leaders that have been with the same group of kids for several years and it is evident that their commitment has led to great fruit.  We talk about those leaders and the effectiveness of their service.  We share story after story of how leaders were able to be a part of a students decision to trust Christ, their baptism, and their spiritual growth.  We talk about how leaders have guided students through tough times because they were trusted mentors by the child and the parents.   Just hearing these stories helps a person to see how their investment can lead to life-change.

Finally, I just ask them if they are able and willing to make that commitment.  If they can’t make that commitment, it doesn’t mean we don’t want them to serve.  There are places for them to serve, but leading a small group may not be the best fit.  

We want to provide the most optimum environment for life change, and that means we must set the bar high for our leaders.  We’re not 100% there yet, but my prayer is that over the next few years we reach a point where we no longer have to ask them to make such a commitment because it is just the norm.

 

As I write this, there is a lot of transition going on in my life.  My fingernails have been bitten down to the bone because so much is going on and it just doesn’t seem like there is enough time or energy to manage it all.  I’m taking on the full leadership of preteen ministry at Fellowship, which involves about 60 volunteers and 300 fifth and sixth graders.  I’m in and out of town all summer with children’s camps and other trips. Our daughter is now crawling, so nothing is in a safe distance from her grasp.  And my wife, Dana, and I just this morning bought a house that needs its share of TLC.  A lot is changing.  It is fun, but it is also daunting.

This has just further reminded me of the pains in transitioning preteens from elementary to middle school/jr. high.  This is such a taxing time emotionally, physically, and even spiritually.  For those of us in children’s ministry, this is one of the most critical parts of our job.  And yet, it is often overlooked. This takes some attention and planning to be successful.  It also takes a partnership between the children’s and student ministries.  If you haven’t done so already, let me encourage you to sit down with key leaders and staff from children’s ministry and student ministry at your church and ask these questions:

What is your strategy for helping a preteen to successfully manage the transition from elementary to Jr. High?
How do you prepare them for this transition to a new ministry before they reach this point?
What do you do to celebrate/commemorate this passage between stages of life?
How do you equip the parents to lead their kids during this process?
How do you evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy?

These questions are great to ask about every transition between life stages, such as between preschool and elementary or high school and college.

I posted a few weeks ago about the strategy that we used this year to help preteens navigate this transition.  You can read about that HERE.
If you have any questions about events that we do for preteens, you can contact me via TWITTER or EMAIL. 

I posted a question yesterday that has been on my heart lately.  You can read the question HERE.

My struggle with this question has prompted me to really study the lives of some great pastors and evangelists. I want to see how their lives reflect the answer to that question.  I recently read of a study on the Gospel accounts done by Pastor/Evangelist John Wilbur Chapman.  Chapman is probably lesser known for penning the lyrics to the hymn “Oh, Glorious Day!” which has been made popular recently by the group Casting Crowns.  But as a Pastor/Evangelist from the 1880s to 1918, it was estimated that he had preached 50,000 sermons to some 60 million people.  Learning about his life and ministry has been some help to me in processing the question that I mentioned in yesterday’s post.    

Back to his study of the Gospel account… Chapman found that there were 40 individuals mentioned in the Gospels, each suffering from the same disease, who were healed by Jesus.  Of the forty, thirty-four of them were brought to Jesus by friends, or He was taken to the individual.  Only six of the forty sufferers found a way to Jesus without assistance.  The majority (85%) of them found Jesus Christ because a friend was concerned with their health and well-being.

I haven’t done a case study to prove this, but I would say that the vast number of people who find their way to salvation in Jesus today, most of them reach Him because a friend took the time to be concerned about the welfare of their soul.  I know that there are amazing testimonies of people who came to Jesus without the direct involvement of others, but the majority of salvation testimonies I’ve heard involve a friend, teacher, pastor, or parent that spent a lot of time praying for and witnessing to the person.

This thought draws me back to the question that I started with…
What if the purpose of every relationship you have was to lead the other person closer to Christ?

It also raises some questions for me as a Preteen Pastor…
How are we teaching preteens to have a concern for the spiritual condition of their friends?
How are we preparing/discipling them to be the hands and feet that carry the Good News?
How are we unleashing them to do this?
When we share testimonies or baptism, how do we celebrate the “friends” that invested in the life that has come to Jesus?

As a parent, pastor, individual, how do you answer these questions?
What’s your thoughts on the premise of the study by Chapman?