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Preteen Connections

Nick Diliberto

I took a step but couldn't move. I looked down to find a preteen lying on the floor locking my feet together with his arms. He seemed to want my attention, so I cracked a few jokes and then pleaded with him to let me go. He was unwilling at first, but he finally agreed. As I reflected on this odd experience, I realized that he was relating to me in his own way. There had recently been a lot of leadership turnover, preventing preteens from effectively connecting with anyone. Quiet and distant at first, this young man eventually had warmed up to me.

This experience reminds me how important relationships are to preteens. They want and crave healthy relationships with adult leaders. Consider these areas to determine if you're making crucial connections with preteens.

How are you intentionally creating a relationship-building environment? A key component to any preteen gathering is relationship building. Incorporate free time so preteens can engage in an activity while leaders intentionally connect with them. Lately, our ministry has increased free time and shortened organized games and teaching time. The result has been a stronger sense of community and preteens' increased willingness to open up during small group. What will you tweak to be more intentional about developing preteen/leader relationships?

What are leaders doing outside of Sundays to connect with preteens? We encourage leaders in pairs to meet with small groups of preteens outside of our church environment. They can go to a restaurant, mall, or arcade-nothing elaborate. Preteens open up in a casual atmosphere when leaders ask what they need prayer for, how life is at home, and what struggles they're experiencing at school.

How are you challenging preteens to explore their faith? You can't just tell preteens what to believe and expect it to stick--they want to be challenged and stretched. Allow preteens to wrestle with questions about their faith in a safe environment. Foster dialogue by asking open-ended questions such as, "What's most difficult for you to believe about God?" or "How do you know for sure that Jesus is the only way to God?" Let preteens come up with the answers, allowing them to learn from one another. Their hearts and minds have questions, but without trusted relationships, preteens have no place to go with them. Making faith discoveries together will help preteens connect with leaders, peers, and most importantly, with Jesus.

Nick Diliberto is the creator of, a website that provides creative resources for preteen ministry. He's a children's ministry director in San Diego, California.

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