Preteen Ministry: The Preteen Zone


Cue the eerie music…

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“It’s the middle ground between light and shadow…between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge…Enter, if you will, The Preteen Zone.”

Okay, stop the music!

While it may not make you as squeamish as the old TV show The Twilight Zone, The Preteen Zone can be as daunting, as perplexing, and as alien to many of us in children’s ministry today. That’s what we’ve been hearing consistently as we’ve dug deeper into the preteen ministry challenge.

Children's Ministry Local Training

We’ve discovered that The Preteen Zone can leave children’s ministers quaking in their boots and hunting for that special portal that’ll answer their primal cry for help. We’ve also discovered, though, that preteen ministry is an emerging trend in children’s ministry with some churches even hiring a ministry leader dedicated to preteens only. Welcome to the next ministry frontier!

We hosted a Preteen Think Tank with six top-notch preteen ministers from around the country. As we discussed the challenges and joys of ministering to preteens, we had eye-opening discussions about who these kids are — and the best ways to reach them.

Let’s dive into this challenging ministry area and see if we can solve today’s mystery of reaching upper-elementary kids — with the help of three of our Preteen Think Tank experts.

Preteen Graduation Scrapbook Craft

The Way Things Are

It’s almost cliché to talk about how times have changed. Perhaps, though, with no age group other than preteens have things changed so drastically. Kids are hitting puberty earlier — sometimes as young as 8 — so raging hormones are a reality that up until recently were felt primarily in junior high ministry.

And preteens are exposed to more mature issues earlier. Ty Bryant, pastor to fourth- through sixth-graders at Perimeter Church in Atlanta, Georgia, lamented at our Preteen Think Tank that schools in his area have had to confront the issue of oral sex with sixth-graders. With sixth-graders!

Yep, times have changed. Preteens are exposed to far more than we were at their age — no matter what age you are!

“When I was 10 years old, my parents got a divorce. I was pretty much kept out of the loop and struggled with issues that dealt with trivial stuff about my parents’ divorce,” says Joe Puentes, minister to preteens at Christ Church of Oronogo in Oronogo, Missouri. “Preteens now are confronted with the raw issues of their parents’ divorce. They’re in the heat of custody battles and are asked about who they want to live with. They know if their parent was having an affair, and they even know what that means. The bottom line is that preteens are pushed by society, their families, their schools, and their churches to rapidly grow up.”

It’s not just family issues that have changed with preteens. Our consumer culture also presses in on kids to age them faster. Marketers use “age compression” to market to kids so they can capture a share of the $1.7 billion kids ages 8 to 14 are spending. Marketers compress the ages by intentionally pushing adult and teen qualities in products so kids find them more appealing for purchase. Thus, they promote kids “aging up.”

Redefining Preteen Popularity Rules

Add to this the psychodynamic of aspiration, and we have a group of kids that isn’t sure where it fits. Aspiration is the term used to describe kids aspiring to be older. So kids dress, talk, and play older. And with kids aspiring to be older, they’re easily pulled out of childhood to move more quickly into adolescence. Emotionally and mentally, though, they’re not ready. They’re stuck between the two worlds they no longer feel completely comfortable in.

“In the 10 years I’ve been in youth ministry and children’s ministry, I’ve noticed that the problems and issues that faced junior high kids are now placed on preteens,” says Puentes. “The preteens I minister to are dealing with social issues that junior high and some senior high youth dealt with 10 years ago. They’re struggling with issues like drugs and alcohol, sex, more mature boyfriend/girlfriend issues, unhealthy friendships that deeply affect them, and materialism.”

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About Author

Christine Yount Jones

Christine has more than 27 years of children’s ministry experience. She is the Executive Editor of Children’s Ministry Magazine, has authored many books and articles on children’s ministry, and serves as co-director of the KidMin Conference. She’s led teams in the development of leading innovative resources, including Group's Instant Christmas Play, Buzz Instant Sunday School curriculum, Grapple Preteen Curriculum, and the new Dig-In Sunday School curriculum. Follow Christine on Twitter @ChristineYJones


  1. The Preteen Launchables are a MUST for the preteen ministry and leadership. I give them to my leadership and interns. I have given all of them away and now have none left. HELP! Where can I find them? Twilight Zone?

    • Christine Yount Jones
      Christine Yount Jones on

      We’re glad you loved those books! Unfortunately, they’re out of print. You may try searching for them online but we have no more here at Group. Sorry!

  2. Love this article. I’m heading into my third year of teaching a preteen sunday school class. Last year the director decided that all should follow a set curriculum. It was too young for them and full of stuff they knew inside and out. After 13 weeks, I refused to teach the curriculum chosen by the director and began creating my own lessons geared at this age group (approved by church leadership). I watched the kids come alive and engaged. Parents were excited to see their kids scrambling to do find Bible verses for each week’s theme.

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