Is Preteen Ministry the New Student Ministry in the Church Today?

This question may challenge you, but the research shows this to be true. According to Nelson, the moral foundation of a child typically peaks between 10 and 13 years of age, which he calls 92the 10/13 window.[1] Barna says, “By age 13, your spiritual identity is largely set in place.”[2] When I first saw these stats, it was concerning to me. But as I began to think about it more, the reality of preteen ministry and its importance hit home. So, we have to take preteen ministry seriously! What’s exciting about preteen ministry is their heart for the Lord, and if you have ever worked with them, you have seen that. Preteens have an openness and a hunger to know the things of God. They desire to serve and are willing to do so. They are willing to take risks for the Gospel. They are also still very trusting of adults and our influence on their lives.

Recently, we had one hundred and twenty-five preteens and leaders from seven churches join us in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, on mission. The churches that attended this mission trip spent the last nine weeks prior to the trip training their preteens. When they arrived in Sapulpa, I could see fear in some of the kids’ eyes. Within two days, that fear had turned into a fire in their hearts to share the Good News of Christ. You see, what I have found in preteens is that they are ready and willing to be used by God when we train and release them. During the Sapulpa trip, the preteens led 45 people to Christ! What you don’t know is many of the preteens reached out to children who were not ready to receive Christ. So, they cried out to the Lord in our worship services, many times in tears, for their salvation. At one of the sites where the preteens were ministering, there were children who had not eaten breakfast or lunch in days. One of the leaders shared the need with our entire mission team. We told the preteens that if they wanted to give to help those children, they could do so during the worship service. They donated $489 for the children at this site. What I learned 15 years ago is that when you equip preteens for ministry and release them, they will become missionaries for the Lord Jesus Christ. You see, on this mission trip in particular, the preteens were released to do everything at the ministry sites—they taught Bible stories, they taught crafts, they led worship, they counseled lost children, and they fed hungry children. In the meantime, the adult leaders watched in amazement at what the preteens could do. One lady said, “I never knew that kids could do this.” I told her, “They have never been given the chance.”

Preteen ministry is my joy and passion! We not only train them for ministry, but we also teach them how to walk with Christ on a daily basis. I believe this has been my biggest “lightbulb” moment. When we began teaching kids how to walk with the Lord through personal Bible study, prayer, surrender, and gifts and ministry, their lives transformed before our eyes. For many years, I focused on the developmental styles of children. But when I turned my focus on helping them learn how to walk with Christ and have a personal relationship with Him, this was the first time I saw significant change in their lives. So, two things happen: first, when given an opportunity to minister, the preteens shine in a powerful way. They grow in their faith and in confidence of God’s purpose for their lives. Second, when they develop a personal walk with Christ through spiritual disciplines, it has a faith-sustaining effect on them. Instead of waiting until they get into the student ministry to disciple them, we now send kids into the student ministry who are already on fire for the Lord and ready for the next challenge. I’ll tell you, preteen ministry can be very exciting in your church because they are ready to learn and grow in their faith and be used by God in powerful ways. This is why I call preteen ministry “the new student ministry.” If their foundation is not set during the preteen years, it may be too late. Without this foundation, there won’t be much of a student ministry.

Check out our resources for preteen ministry by clicking here.

[1] Alan E. Nelson, KidLead: Growing Great Leaders (BookSurge Publishing, Charleston, SC: 2009).

[2] George Barna, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions: Why Children Should be Your Church's Number One Priority (Regal, Ventura: 2003), 34.