Something’s catching–and these preteens are
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Recently I looked at our church parking lot and was amazed to
see more than 100 kids at our Club Splash preteen event. Kids slid
through huge, inflatable water slides, dove down giant slippery
slopes, and rushed through the huge wild rapids. But what amazed me
wasn’t the number of kids or the volume of laughter
— it was the infectious Christian spirit
spreading from our preteens. More than half the kids in our parking
lot were visitors.
It hasn’t always been this way. In the past, our kids rarely
invited their non-Christian friends to church. They were reluctant
to reach out to their friends. We realized something was missing in
our preteen ministry, and we intentionally set on a path to fix it.
And over time our ministry has become a place where our preteens
enthusiastically reach out to their friends for Jesus.
Get on the same page. It took us awhile to
realize that part of the reason our preteen program wasn’t growing
was that our kids didn’t feel driven to invite their friends. Our
kids didn’t understand the importance of sharing their faith, and
we knew we needed to reassess our programs.
So we changed our path. We developed new programs to grow
preteens’ understanding about Christianity. We taught them our
church’s mission. We found ways to keep our ministry’s goal in
front of our preteens — always. We explained the purpose of
outreach events. We gave kids a copy of the church’s vision. Most
importantly, we talked about the importance of our mission
One major shift we implemented was to teach the importance of
reaching unchurched friends on a weekly basis. We present this
series in an age-appropriate way and give kids tips for connecting
with their friends. At the end of each series, we sponsor a
special, fun event so kids can apply what they’ve learned by
inviting friends. At the end of the evening, we invite visiting
kids to attend our programs and services.
Be an authentic equipper. Preteens can detect a
phony in an instant. It’s vital for preteen leaders and volunteers
to be models for kids. Authentic adults encourage kids to follow in
their footsteps. We encourage adults to be transparent about their
successes and failures, and to make their efforts to reach
unchurched friends visible.
Preteens have preconceived notions about reaching out to their
friends. We’ve found that by equipping them to share their faith in
a style that fits them, we can eliminate many of their fears. We’ve
incorporated the following key learning points in most aspects of
our preteen ministry, including regular classroom time and all our
• It’s important to share your faith.
• There are different ways to share your faith.
• You can have comfortable, nonthreatening, spiritual
conversations with friends.
• It’s important to talk about how you came to know Jesus.
• You can naturally communicate the gospel in less than five
Make it happen. The natural next step to
equipping kids to reach out to their friends is to give them tons
of opportunities to bring their friends to exciting church events.
We focused on offering ultra-cool, wildly fun events that cover
three main categories.
• Ongoing Programs — Our weeknight introduction to
Christianity is one of our most popular programs-who would’ve
guessed? Kids bring their friends, who bring more friends, and we
learn the basics of Christianity in a nonthreatening, engaging way.
Kids eat dinner together each night, play games, listen to an
age-appropriate message, and then break into small groups. Our
church grew from about 600 children and adults in 1996 to 1,300
presently; this weeknight program has been a cornerstone of that
• Just-for-Fun Events — These events offer an experience
kids can’t get anywhere else-with no strings attached. Our goal is
for kids and guests to associate fun with church. One of our most
successful events was Laser Tag Mania, where preteens played
unlimited Laser Tag games ’till three in the morning. The kids
loved this so much they talked about it for weeks afterward.
• Events With a Purpose — These events provide kids with
fun and an opportunity to become a follower of Jesus. At Friday
Night Live preteens played wild indoor and outdoor games, and then
listened to a creatively communicated message about Jesus. With
help from the movie Mr. Deeds (we used the clip where Adam
Sandler’s foot was numb and being beaten with a rod) we illustrated
our numbness to sin without God in our lives. Creative tools and
presentation helped us drive home the point. The result? Eight kids
became forever friends with Jesus at the event.
Celebrate success. For preteens, inviting friends
to church can be risky. They risk rejection, which can hurt. We
wanted our kids to see the difference they were making, so we
videotaped success stories. Our kids love seeing the impact they’re
having and are encouraged to continue inviting their friends.
One of my favorites: Kylee found her way to our program, and God
transformed her life. She invited her friends to visit, and now
five or six are regulars. In only a few months she became a
Christian and began reaching out to her friends — all at the ripe
age of 10. Now there’s a success story!
Over time, we’ve transformed our preteen ministry from a place
where kids were focused on themselves to a place where Jesus and
his mission is our focus. Jesus started with 12 people and the
entire world was knocked upside down because of what God did
through them — not because they had special powers we don’t have,
but because they were infected with Christianity and they dedicated
their lives to infecting others with it as well.
Nick Diliberto is a children’s ministry director in