In your preteen ministry, do you know your preteens’ struggles? Your preteens will need a strong spiritual foundation to face serious distractions such as doubt, peer pressure, temptations, and stress. To help you take steps now to prepare kids for the challenges ahead, Children’s Ministry Magazine talked to Christian teenagers about their faith, what’s influenced it, and what’s challenged it. Because they’re just like the kids who are growing up in your children’s ministry, these teenagers’ insights can pave the way for the next generation of teenagers — no matter what life brings their way.
The Family Factor
When asked about the biggest influence on their faith so far, teenagers we interviewed overwhelmingly answered “family.” Surprisingly, though, the family members making the impact changed as kids aged. During childhood, kids say, their parents left the biggest impression on them spiritually. But during adolescence, siblings fill that role, as do peers, youth groups, teachers, and mentors.
“My parents have always had a big impact on my faith — and continue to,” says 15-year-old Mary Grace Joseph of Springdale, Arkansas. “They consistently pray with us each day and read from God’s Word. They’re two of the strongest Christians I know.”
Thomas Haugan, 17, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says his parents affected his faith the most as a child. But now his older brother and a recent missions trip are having the greatest impact on him spiritually.
Parents’ importance in children’s spiritual development can’t be underestimated. Kristi Andrews, youth minister at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Lakewood, Colorado, says of her youth group of 30 teenagers, “three-fourths are from non-Christian homes and three-fourths have a hard time believing in the existence of a loving God. Who can blame them?” she asks. “They’ve never experienced Christ’s forgiveness, never seen a prayer answered, and never witnessed the everyday miracles that come with having faith.”
Children’s ministers can encourage parents who are providing strong faith foundations by assuring them that their efforts aren’t in vain. For children with non-Christian backgrounds, minister to their parents’ needs and invite them to get involved at your church.
Strong Faith Ingredients
Most of the teenagers we interviewed grew up in the church — and most credit their church’s children’s ministry programs with building their spiritual framework.
Content matters. Clinton Franz, 13, of Golden, Colorado, says Sunday school object lessons “left a big impression” on him. He recalls in detail a hands-on activity from several years ago that had an important message about forgiveness.
Mary Grace credits the many Bible verses she memorized at Awana for growing her faith as a child and for helping her during challenging times. Other teenagers expressed regret that they hadn’t committed more Scripture passages to heart.
Relationships matter. “Special Sunday school teachers through the years invested a lot into my life,” Mary Grace says.
The relationships children form within the church have the biggest impact on their spiritual lives, according to Donna Thurston, assistant for discipleship and family ministries at Chatham Presbyterian Church in Chatham, Illinois. “In hindsight, I think those relationships kept me in the church as I was growing up,” she says. “If I hadn’t felt loved and like I was part of the ‘family,’ I wouldn’t have been very invested.”
Fun matters. Danny Dahlquist, 16, of Sioux Falls, says church programs weren’t only strong teaching tools; they were fun. “They taught me many things about Christianity and about being a Christian while using fun activities,” he says.
The importance of fun shouldn’t be overlooked, says youth minister Kristi Andrews. “If children see the Christian community as inviting and exciting, as opposed to strict and boring, they’re likely to continue participating as teenagers.”
The Central Message
Teenagers say children’s ministry programs strengthened them against worldly distractions by keeping Christ’s message central.
Christian Basics: “My church’s children’s ministry has taught me the basics: to love, not to hate, to pray, to preach,” says Danny.
Reinforcing the basics of Christianity is an essential goal for children’s ministries, says Tracey Lawrence, author of CounterCultural Christians Youth Ministry Edition: Exploring a Christian Worldview (Group Publishing, Inc.). “I think we underestimate what children can perceive, but their theology of God is forming right after birth,” she says. “All their experiences are shaping how they view God.”
Christ-Centered Activities and People: Mary Grace remembers “exciting kids’ services, great Sunday school teachers, VBS, children’s choir, and big rallies” where Christ and Bible stories were constantly shared. Having a commitment to Christ and surrounding herself with Christian friends have prevented worldly distractions from being a big concern, she says.