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