It all started about 4 years ago, when I sat down with some leaders around the pool at my apartment complex, talking, dreaming and praying about the vision for our children's ministry. One lady said, "I'll start a pre-teen ministry." Now, she says she has no idea where that statement came from, except from God; it wasn't something she had planned on saying or doing. God planned this ministry. That is where Club 56 was birthed, and since that moment, God's hands have been ALL OVER it, and He has anointed just the leaders He wanted, and brought us the greatest groups of pr-teens to be a part of this ministry.
I don't claim to be an expert on preteens; but I do love them. And I know God loves them deeply too. This is an age (10-12 years) where MANY kids get lost somewhere between children's ministry and youth ministry, and, if we're not intentional with targeting them and engaging them, many of them slip through the cracks. This is a time that is hugely important in shaping their faith foundation. They are different from kids in children's ministry, and they are different from teens in youth ministry.
That's why we started a ministry JUST for them. Here is what we did:
1) Cool Space
We first focused on giving them a space that is THEIRS. When they take ownership of their space and feel comfortable there, then they have a place where they can open up, invite their friends, and have fun. We were incredibly blessed by God in this area. We prayed, and God provided some awesome stuff, almost all through donations. A snack/drink bar was built and donated, a big flatscreen TV donated, a Wii and Xbox, cool chairs and furniture, and more. The kids LOVE their room!
More about the room....
- Chalkboard/magnet wall (they love to be creative, and it's fun to see what they come up with to put on their wall; not just the girls, either; guys love it too!)
- Games: we have air hockey, ping pong, foosball, arcade basketball, card/board games, & video games. They have about 20 minutes or so of free time for games and hanging out
- Cool furniture - they don't just sit in regular chairs, they have cool and comfy chairs, which they think is the greatest!
For pre-teens, relationships are one of the most important things in their lives. We facilitate relationships with adult mentors who love these kids, who are there every week to pray with them, teach them, and have fun with them. These mentors are people the kids can look up to and trust, who can speak truth into their lives.
We also work hard to build relationships among the preteens, so they have a group of friends who are seeking God along with them, who they connect with and have fun with, and can walk their faith with. We try to give them lots of opportunities to develop these relationships.
One thing, in particular, that helps grow deeper relationships within the group is adventure and mystery. We used to do something we called "Destination Unknown." We had a mystery trip every month, where kids would sign up (I would tell their parents where we were going), and we would blindfold the kids, and take them someplace fun and cool! Sometimes it was something simple, like lunch and games in the park; other things we did are: bowling, pool party, ice skating, movies, scavenger hunt, pumpkin patch, horse farm, etc. The kids had SO MUCH fun on these adventures. And something about being blindfolded and "kidnapped" for an adventure will bond students together in a unique way that strengthens relationships and friendships.
Our most recent event was a mystery-themed lock-in, with a whole night full of clues and mysteries and blindfolds and challenges and adventure! The kids had an absolute blast! It was so fun to see them laughing and engaging with each other. I will share more about the mystery lock-in in a later post.
3) Deeper Faith
Preteens want to have a deeper faith; they want to ask questions. They want to grow. They have endless curiosity and thirst for truth and knowledge. We want to use that curiosity and thirst to strategically draw them to Jesus, without forcing them to Him; letting them ask questions and come up with answers.
At our recent lock-in, I planned on having a discussion time with the kids, and a short message to talk about the mysteries of our faith, and the clues that lead us to the truth about Jesus. One activity was for the kids to write down some questions they had. I only planned on this part lasting a few minutes; what I didn't count on was that the Holy Spirit would move in the room, and the kids would ask question after question of heartfelt, raw, questions and discussion that would last for about 40 minutes! They had great questions, and they didn't want to stop, even when I told them we had "hot and fresh donuts" waiting for them (this was at 11:30PM!).
Here are some of the questions they wrote down and asked....
- Can we be married in heaven?
- If you're not baptized, are you a Christian?
- Was God a real man, or was He just there?
- I've heard that you have to do so many things to be saved.....some are like: have faith, know Jesus, and more... what if you do one thing wrong? Will you still go to heaven?
- If you don't go to church, will you go to H*LL?
- Where did God come from?
- How did God get in heaven?
- Was Jesus alive before He came to earth?
- How did God get here?
- Can angels have babies?
- Will I start over as a baby when I get to heaven?
- If Jesus is still alive today in Heaven, why does He allow wars and bad things to happen?
- Why did God even make Satan, if He knew he would be evil and bad things would happen?
These are the things that preteens are thinking about! Their minds are sponges, soaking up information, and full of questions. I was blown away by the conversation and discussion that took place at the lock-in. Their faith is real and raw, and pure. And this faith will be the foundation that shapes what they believe for the rest of their lives. This is an opportunity to build a solid foundation, and fan the flames of passion and knowledge that burns inside of them!
Not only do they have a need to grow in their faith, but they also have a desire to serve and lead. We try to develop servant leadership in our preteens. We do leadership training with them, and we give them opportunities to serve through community mission projects (like delivering food and supplies to hospice and nursing homes) and serve within the church (they run our media during kids' church, they also help in our nursery/toddler rooms, and they help as greeters for kids' church). They absolutely love their leadership jobs, and it gives them an opportunity to be a part of the church body, to use their gifts, and see their strengths and skills as they serve others and develop servants' hearts.
We have a bi-annual purity retreat, that focuses on kids' purity in all areas of life, from media and internet, to friendships, to (we touch very lightly on this; we encourage parents to talk with their kids) sexual and relationship purity- we invite parents to be a part of it, and give parents resources and opportunities to talk with their kids about these issues.
At the very age when many 5th and 6th graders are dragging their feet to church, kids that are a part of a dynamic, strategic preteen ministry will be begging their parents to take them to church, because they feel valued and loved, and they have deep friendships and tons of fun! Investing in preteens is one of the most important things we can do, because not only are they the future of the church, but they can be leaders and servants and an integral part of the church body now, and if we don't keep them in it, they could very easily phase out! This is an all-important ministry, and I am so thankful for our group of leaders and preteens!
What ideas do you have to engage and connect with preteens?