You want to make a difference in the lives of preteens.
You want students to come into a relationship with Jesus that changes them from the inside out.
You want them to go deeper in their relationship with God, and to align their lives with God’s Word.
You want preteens to love and serve others.
You want them to really “get into” a lesson or message that you’re teaching.
However, the truth is that 4th-6th graders, at times, can be a frustrating age group to work with.
After all, they:
Have short attention spans.
Think they know everything.
Often appear to not really be interested in learning anything.
Have high energy levels.
Often display an “all about me attitude”.
Are “too cool” for church participation (especially those boys).
Are known to be obnoxious.
The list goes on!
Although preteens can be frustrating at times, this age group can be one of the most rewarding to work with. The starting point is to “understand the quirky preteen brain.”
So, here are a few ways you can begin to do that.
You probably want to share this with your preteen ministry volunteers and/or team.
UNDERSTANDING THE QUIRKY PRETEEN BRAIN
1) The attention of preteens is more focused than younger kids.
According to developmental research, preteens have better selective attention compared to young children. This allows them to decipher what’s important in a situation and focus only on that information.
Selective attention is useful in social situations, such as when they are in a crowded cafeteria and need to pay attention to only what their best friend is saying.
It is also necessary for succeeding in school in situations. For instance, when they need to solve a complicated math word problem that involves extraneous information. They’re able to primarily focus only on that problem.
With this focus, they can also perform skills that have been practiced repeatedly – such as kicking a ball while running or sustaining a conversation – without paying intense attention to those tasks.
The takeaway for you in a ministry situation: Preteens are capable of focusing on what they determine is important.
That’s why you need to “cut out the fluff” in your teaching at church.
No need to say in a paragraph what you can say in a sentence. Keep it short and sweet when in “teaching mode”. Less is more.
They’re only paying attention to “the meat” anyway and when you take too long to say something, you lose their attention.
In each of your preteen lessons have one main point, and use multiple creative elements to support that main point.
Be creative with your teaching methods.
Use video clips from current movies to drive home the point.
2) Preteens begin to think for themselves.
They question what they’ve always accepted as truth and see things from a different angle. They begin to question their faith, and maybe even experience some doubt on certain truths they have previously believed to be true.
This is actually a good thing, so encourage it. They need opportunities to hash out their questions and doubts.
Here are some ways to do that.
Each week, have a small group discussion where students are encouraged to ask questions and give their thoughts on the lesson. The goal is to get them talking.
Place a “question box” near the check-in area. Tell preteens whenever they have a question about God, the Bible, Jesus, etc. to write it down on an index card and place it in the box. Provide index cards and pens for them to do so. Each week, take one or two questions from the box and have students discuss it in small groups.
Dedicate one midweek/weekend service to “asking questions”. Break students up into small groups. Give students index cards and pens. Instruct them to write down a question they have about their faith. When done, students turn in their questions to the small group leader. Spend the rest of the service talking about those questions. It’s more important that students answer each others questions than the leader giving the answer.
3) Preteens think at a faster rate than younger kids.
Partly due to attention changes, preteens think much more quickly and fluidly than younger children do.
This gives them the new found ability to multi-task.
There are real biological reasons for this change in tweens. In particular, neurons in the brain are becoming increasingly covered in a fatty material called "myelin" which allows neurons to fire more quickly. The more myelin, the quicker a preteen can take in and process information.
What does this mean for a preteen ministry leader?
You might think they’re not “paying attention” to a lesson, but odds are that your message is sinking in.
Students might be moving around a lot, talking to a friend about what you’re saying (but you think they’re talking about something else), or looking at you.
But they’re getting it. It’s sinking in.
Relax. No need to overly demand students to stay still, give you eye contact, etc.
4) Preteens are in transition from childhood to adolescence.
Preteens are undergoing massive amount of changes in all areas of their lives: cognitively, physically, socially, spiritually, and emotionally.
They’re literally morphing into adolescence.
They think differently than younger kids. Their bodies are undergoing rapid growth (organs, bones, brain, etc.). Friends become a priority. They’re able to “own” for themselves a relationship with God.
Therefore, it is important to structure a ministry around their specific developmental changes.
For some, that means creating a specific preteen ministry for 4th-6th graders that meets on the weekend separate from other ages. It also means preteen events, outreaches, summer camp, and other events throughout the year.
For others, it means getting creative. You might be forced to have preteens lumped together with younger kids. So, maybe you do a monthly service for this age group another night of the week. Or maybe you have 4th-6th graders night once every week.
The key principle here is to do something specific in your ministry just for preteens.
Okay, I hope after reading this that you better understand the quirky preteen brain.
If you found this helpful, then you should share this with the volunteers in your preteen ministry.
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ONE QUICK QUESTION
When it comes to the “quirky preteen brain”, what is your biggest struggle? Comment below.
I would love to read your feedback.
I think it would also be really helpful for others to see what you’re struggling with (so you know you’re not alone).
I'm looking forward to reading your comments.
Nick Diliberto, Preteen Ministry