I’ve taught preteens for over 20 years. There is still SO much to learn about reaching this age-group, but here are five keys I’ve found that cultivate students who love, serve, and walk with the Lord. Please add what you’ve learned to the comment section below – I’d like to learn from you, too.
1. Balanced and Connected Content
Much of the curriculum that’s available for preteens focuses on one, or maybe two, of these areas:
- Theology (who is God)
- Christian living (how do I live)
- Disciplines & other stuff that only Christians do (worshipping God, praying, reading the Bible, communion, evangelism, etc.)
I like rhyming words, so I think of it as KNOW GOD (Theology), SHOW GOD (Christian living), and GROW IN GOD (Disciplines).
We’ve been able to develop a way to intentionally keep all three of these things at the forefront in our preteen ministry. Also, we’ve been working on ways to help preteens connect all three of these areas together.
Why is this important? Each one is connected and can help fuel the other. Think of a tree. The theology is like the roots. The Christian living is like the fruits. And the disciplines is the shoots.
Theology helps a preteen understand the WHY behind how their Christian living. Theology helps them to know where their faith is placed, and that fuels the Christian living. The disciplines help to strengthen their relationship with God, and this stronger relationship fuels the theology and allows for bigger fruit. Imagine a tree without one of the three things flourishing (roots, fruits, and shoots), and you’ll see the issue with focusing on one area of our preteens’ spiritual growth.
All three areas of growth are important. Think about a preteen who learns great truths about God, but never applies them to how they live. Or a preteen who learns all the disciplines of Christianity, but never grows in their understanding of who God is. Or a preteen who lives how they are “suppose to”, but doesn’t have the foundational truths about who Christ is.
Are your lessons balanced in these three areas? Or do you have series after series that is focused in just one direction?
In Elevate (our preteen ministry), we’ve been able to grow well-rounded preteens by having all three components as an intentional part of our program each week.
Whether you’re using prepackaged curriculum or developing your own, this is something that requires some thought. Are you balanced and connected in the WAYS that you’re helping preteens grow?
Teaching that has Christ and the Gospel at the center is, of course, of paramount importance.
- The Cross is how we know God (Theology).
- The Cross is what fuels our life (Christian Living).
- The Cross allows the veil to be torn and allows us to connect with God in deeper ways (Disciplines).
It’s funny how quickly our services can stray away from preaching Christ, as though the Gospel is the first thing you learn, but now we’re on to bigger and better and deeper things. In Galatians 2, Paul reminds Peter, and all of us, that we must always be about the Cross. There is no graduating on to bigger things. It is the first and primary thing in Christianity, but it also the FINAL and BIGGEST thing.
Christ makes the theology true and accessible. He makes the Christian living possible. He makes the disciplines meaningful. Remember to keep him and the Cross at the center of your teaching.
3. Put the lesson in their hands…let them OWN it.
Much of what makes lessons impactful for preteens is putting it in their hands, at the beginning and at the end. We have learned to let THEM guide the meaning of the lesson by their involvement in the teaching by using questions or choices. Here are three examples of I mean.
Theology Lesson Example. Let’s say you’re teaching a lesson about God’s omnipresence. Instead of telling preteens why that matters and how they should respond, we would ask them questions to draw them into the meaning of the lesson. At the beginning of the lesson, we might ask, “When is a time in your life when you felt alone? Draw a stick-figure picture of yourself in that situation.” Then in Small Groups, they would share that experience with their peers and leader. Then, as we look at specific Scripture, a truth is revealed: God is omnipresent. But instead of telling preteens this truth, we ask them what God is revealing through the Scriptures that we’re sharing. We let them uncover that truth for themselves. Then, at the end of the lesson, we ask them to look at their drawings from earlier. Is there something missing from the picture? YES. It’s God. “Where was he in that moment? Add him into your drawing.”
Christian Living Example. Let’s say we’re teaching a lesson about making decisions. Instead of just telling preteens to look to Christ when they face tough decisions, we start the lesson by asking them how Jesus is like a lighthouse? Then, we expand on this concept by using Scripture to support what THEY have already said about how Jesus is like a lighthouse. By doing this, we give them rock to stand on in the place where they just declared that they want to stand. Then we ask THEM about the consequences of not looking at a lighthouse if you are driving a boat in a storm, and the reasons why a captain wouldn’t. At the end of the lesson, we ask THEM to share a truth that they’ve heard in the lesson, and ask THEM how this will affect the way they live.
Discipleship Living Example. This is the simplest to understand. If you’re teaching preteens about worshipping through art, for instance, instead of telling them how, give them options, and let them choose. We recently did a post with a video about this very lesson. You’ll see how the lesson is very much IN THEIR HANDS.
Many of our services have response stationS. The “S” is capitalized on purpose. Put the lesson in the preteens’ hands. Give them choices, and let them own their learning.
4. Put the lesson in their hands…let them DO it.
Not only have we found that preteens want to get their hands on the content of the lesson (or you could say “get their MINDS on the lesson”), but they also want to get their whole body involved in the lesson. In the last example, the video shows both concepts at work. They aren’t just choosing how they’ll respond, but they are actually responding. DOING is a fantastic teacher for preteens.
Giving preteens opportunity to stand up and do something – not just hear something or talk about something – is key.
Let them act out the Bible story they’re hearing. Let them build an entire scene with the content from Psalm 23. In Small Groups, let them write and then sign a worship song. Open up the microphone and let anybody walk to the front to share what God is showing them.
Get those preteens up and moving. Or give them something to do with their hands. Give them paper to write and draw on. Or tear into shapes. Give them something to build or do in their Small Groups.
Hand motions for a verse can be great, but let’s put this and the previous concept together…and let THEM come up with their own hand motions for a verse.
Discussion is good. Listening and Speaking are good. But preteens are more than just mouths and ears and brains. Romans 12:1 says that the whole body is the appropriate sacrifice to Christ. So let’s engage their whole body in our lessons.
5. Let Go of the Bike…and Run Beside
Over the years, this has been the most important thing that we’ve learned about successful ministry to preteens. Everything we do must be about helping preteens to take their first steps of OWNING their faith for themselves. Everything FourFiveSix does is based on this concept – that the essence of successful preteen ministry is Letting go of the bike…and running beside. If you aren’t familiar with this concept, I highly recommend reading the Bike article or attending the next Launchinar.
So…that’s just some of what we’ve learned about successful teaching for preteens. There are many other things, too, like the value of relationships…or consistency.
So what about you? What has God been showing you about teaching preteens? Share your ideas in the comment section below.
Also, if you are looking for a curriculum that incorporates all of these concepts, check out Deeply Rooted.