3 Ways to Level Up Your Preteen Ministry

Now is a good time to explore the question, “What can be done to take your preteen ministry to the next level?”

Here are 3 ways to level-up your preteen ministry:

1. Attend the 2014 FourFiveSix Preteen Leaders’ Conference in Greenwood, IN (just outside Indianapolis).

The dates are April 7-9, 2014. The conference is hosted by FourFiveSix, a group of preteen pastors who are passionate about equipping, empowering & connecting preteen leaders from around the U.S. Whether you’re a kids pastor, student pastor, volunteer, or educator this conference will help you take the next step in ministering to your preteens. It’s a one of a kind event designed for that you don’t want to miss!

Here are a few comments from those that have attended in the past:

“I have never been to a conference before that truly felt like I was hanging out with a bunch of friends. Of course, being in a room full of preteen leaders helps – they’re all pretty gregarious and goofy.”

“I was expecting to go to the conference just for lots of great tools that we could utilize in our ministry. I was very touched that you went above and beyond that by spoiling each of us and giving a chance to breathe!”

Learn more about the 2014 FourFiveSix Preteen Leaders’ Conference

2. Let go & help preteens own their relationship with Jesus.

Preteens are at the age where they can own their relationship with Jesus, and letting go is the best thing we can do to encourage faith ownership. FourFiveSix put together The Bike, which is a great illustration driving home this point. I have included it below. If you’ve read it before, I encourage you to read it again. Each time I do, something new resonates within me. Feel free to share it with leaders, volunteers and parents in your ministry.

The Bike

It has happened to all of us. You were teaching someone (or being taught) to ride a bike. You’ve gone over the structural mechanics of handles bars and pedals and brakes. You let them sit back and watch you try, making it look as easy as, well, riding a bike. They take their seat; feet to the pedals, hands to the handle bars. And with your hand firmly placed on the back of the seat providing extra balance and stability, you begin countless runs up and down the driveway.

And then it happens.

This next time down the driveway is different. Because this time you let go of the bike. You don’t leave their side; you’re still shouting encouragement and support. You’re even there to stop them from crashing into a rogue tree or careening into the middle of the street. But you have let go, allowing them to steer, to balance, to brake.

Many preteens across the country are still waiting for this moment. Not with their bike, but with their faith and with their life. They are waiting for their pastors and parents to understand that if their faith were a bike, they are ready for that moment when we first let go.

From the moment they were carried into the nursery we firmly hold the back of their bike, telling them stories about God and God’s people, about the life of Jesus, and more. As they move into their first years of elementary school we continue to build on these stories and ideas – that Jesus loves you, that God created everything, that they can be a follower of Jesus today. They have sung songs, prayed prayers, read stories, and more. All with the firm – and necessary – hand holding the bike seat of their faith.

But as they enter their preteen years – these years of pre and early adolescence for nine, ten, eleven, and twelve year olds – something unique begins to happen. In some ways they continue to see the world as a kid, but in others they are emerging toward life as a teenager. They’re leaving one and heading toward the other. (We could call them “post-kids” but “preteens” sound much better.) Piaget calls this the move from concrete operations to formal operations. Erikson calls it a move from competence to fidelity. Fowler calls it a move from mythic-literal faith to synthetic-conventional faith. We call it letting go of the bike.

Whatever you call it, it’s happening. Kids become teenagers, but between the two is this unique age called “preteen.” And it is at this time that parents and pastors must let go of the bike, allowing them to continue owning their faith.

This doesn’t mean we let them ride across town on their own. This doesn’t mean we send them on their way, expecting them to learn it all as they go. We remain right beside them, running alongside as they pedal and wobble their way forward. Pastors and parents are constantly supporting and encouraging and helping direct the bicycle of their faith and life. Because one day they will ride across town on their own. And when that day comes – it comes closer every day – we want them to be successful. One day they will teach others how to ride this “bike” and we want them to be equipped and prepared.

So for us, the pastors and leaders of preteens and preteen ministries, what exactly does this mean? It means that instead of simply teaching them by providing the right information, we support them by allowing them to learn for themselves. Instead of simply telling preteens how their faith affects their life, we create environments and resources where they can continue discovering it. Instead of giving them all the answers about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the rest of life, we invite them to voice their own questions and even offer their own answers. Instead of telling them what they should be doing, we create opportunities to discover how God is calling them to bring God’s kingdom to life in the world.

In many ways this is what you are already doing. And in many ways, it is exactly what you need to do more of. Whether your preteen ministry has five students or five hundred students, whether you meet in living room or in an auditorium, whether you function as a part of a children’s ministry or a student ministry, your preteens need you to let go of the bike. No matter how much parents or pastors might unintentionally try to hold on, they are growing up and moving (or pedaling) forward.

Imagine a sixteen-year-old riding her bike, only no one ever let go. Imagine a freshman in college who can’t keep his own balance and remains utterly dependant on someone else. Imagine a newlywed still unsure of their role and function in life. Imagine the parent who is trying to teach their son or daughter to ride a bike while they haven’t taken the training wheels off of their own.

Let go of the bike. Because when you do, you empower your preteens to grow and develop, to learn and to question, and to discover who God has made them to be. But you have to let go.

P.S. – If you are ready to take this concept further (from faith ownership to ministry ownership), then read one of our most popular blog posts – How to Equip Preteens to Own Their Ministry.

3. Focus on recruiting, equipping & connecting volunteer leaders.

We are passionate about pointing preteens to Jesus. In that effort, we sometimes forget about the importance of focusing on volunteers and leaders. In order to have a healthy ministry, they need to be high  priority.

Here are a few ideas to help you recruit, equip and connect leaders:

Recruiting Leaders

It’s the beginning of the school year, and now is a great time to launch recruiting efforts. One of the things I always strive for in creating a team with a blend of high school students and young adults (who bring a lot of energy, passion & excitement), parents (who keep you grounded in what really goes on in the home life of preteens…and are usually eager to serve), and empty nesters (who bring a lot of wisdom to the table).

Identify where each of these groups gather within the church.

Invite them to be a part of pointing preteens to Jesus.

Follow that simple process to recruit more volunteers – identify and invite.

If you want more in depth ideas on this process (as well as other recruiting tips), I created a video with a step-by-step process of recruiting volunteers & keeping volunteers. The video is titled How to Recruit & Keep Rockstar Volunteers. If you haven’t yet watched it, I encourage you to watch the video now.

Equipping Volunteers

Over the past couple of years, I stumbled on a really effective way to equip volunteers. Previously, my method involved one-on-one interaction & a few volunteer training meetings throughout the year. The problem with the trainings is that at best 50% of our leaders would show up. I also felt that many leaders would benefit from continuous training throughout the year.

With the advancement of technology, it is simple & effective to train leaders online.

How? Create a 3-5 minute youtube video every so often. No need to make it super slick. Take a few minutes and shoot a training segment. Use  your smartphone if no other equipment is available. Create a few videos every month (or whatever pace works for you) and email a link to leaders. Piece of cake!

Why is this effective? Leaders get trained on their time. They lead busy lives, so the more you can accommodate their schedule, the better. Also, you are able cover more  training material throughout the year. You’re giving them helpful content in small doses consistently; therefore, increasing retention. Lastly, everyone has access to the training.

Connecting Volunteers

The team that plays together, stays together. Leaders will stick around long-term when they feel a sense of community among the team. The more you provide opportunities for volunteers to connect, the higher your retention rate will be. Consider having a few times throughout the year that volunteers get together and do fun stuff together.

Some ways to connect volunteers:

Invite leaders and their families over to your house for some yummy food.

Invite volunteers to a celebration dinner at church. During the dinner celebrate their efforts and come up with lots of ways to say “thank you”.

Take volunteers to laser tag for an afternoon of fun.

Go to a local restaurant and grab lunch together after weekend services one Sunday.

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