One of the greatest children’s ministry challenges is deciding what to do with preteens. 4th and 5th graders (or 5th and 6th graders depending on schools in your area) are losing interest in your church. They WANT to attend your student ministry, but they’re not old enough yet. They don’t want to be in your children’s ministry, it’s too juvenile. They’re far too mature for that. They’re “tweeners.” They don’t fit anywhere. They’re in between.

Here’s the interesting thing about preteens. They’re still kids. They are really active. They love to jump around, giggle and act crazy. But they want to be seen as more than kids. They are open to having deeper conversations. They don’t want to be talked down to like when they were kids. It’s just different now. This can be really confusing for a ministry leader. Tweens attend your children’s ministry, but you don’t want to treat them like you do the other kids.

Whether you have your preteen in their own specialized environment or they’re combined with all of elementary, groups should look a little different. You actually should consider raising the bar for this age group. They need something different, better even. It’s time to double down to prepare them for the shift to their next phase in life:

Double Down on Environments

Environments matter at every age. However, something shifts with the preteen kid. This is an age where kids begin to see their environments differently. It’s at this age where kids want more say in how their room looks. They have their own opinions. Having a “cool” space for your preteen kids is subjective. This is an opportunity to win with your preteens by setting them apart from the younger kids.

Change up the environment, even if they are small changes. I’ve seen churches install large restaurant booths (to fit 10-12 kids) along the back of the large group room. I’ve seen churches move to bean bag chairs instead of carpet circles. Other ministries have gotten extra creative with Ikea products to make the environment a little more special. Preteens aren’t teens yet, but our environments can communicate to them that we see that they’re different.

Double Down on Conversations

Take conversations to the next level. Elementary kids are concrete thinkers. However, preteens are shifting more toward abstract thoughts. You can begin to explore ideas and concepts that are less concrete. They can comprehend a metaphor. This is the perfect age for helping kids understand a story or principle and translate that to their life. They are actually at an age where they can “discover” context and application if guided appropriately with well-crafted questions.

Teaching is never really the point of the small group. However, leaders in younger groups often teach or reinforce concepts during small group time. Preteen groups are perfect environments for discovery. Small group leaders are guides, constantly asking questions that help kids learn something not because it was taught to them but because they figured something out.

Double Down on Relationships

They say the average kid attends 40 times a year. I think that number is actually starting to slip. More and more families are attending less than twice a month, yet they still see themselves as regular attendees. Influence is diminishing, yet there is a great opportunity to double down on relationships. Summer Camp, Winter Camp or whenever you do camp, is the perfect opportunity to double down on relationships. Your small group leader will possibly get more time with their group of kids in one week at camp than they will during the entire year in small groups. Other special events like game nights, swim parties or other events are key. These don’t have to be things your church organizes either. Empower small group leaders to plan 2-3 events a year.

Every hour a small group leader has with a kid is relational credit earned. Create opportunities unique to preteen to build extra relational time.