Why You Should Build Up Preteen Leaders in Your Children’s Ministry
Published: March 3, 2023
Captivating preteen’s interest in Sunday school isn’t always easy. So instead, consider a different approach: Building up preteen leaders. By equipping preteens with leadership skills, you’ll find they have a greater interest and passion for the good news of Jesus.
Building Up Preteen Leaders
Years ago I launched a new children’s church program. It still has all the standard features — snacks, crafts, worship, class time. But I changed the focus of the program. One of the key questions I asked myself while considering the change was, “Am I preparing the children I minister to today to be the leaders of the church tomorrow?” All change must have purpose. My purpose is to grow young ministers.
I confess: Our preteens were my biggest challenge. They come from Sunday school, rewarded with treats, ready to “rock and roll.” Instead, they’re bored. The opening session of children’s church endeavored to capture and hold the attention of kids ranging in age from 3 to 12 for 35 minutes — no small feat. If the little ones are enthralled, the bigger ones are bored stiff. If the preteens are engaged, the small children are lost. We needed to captivate all our kids. That’s how the idea of creating a ministry program for building up preteen leaders was born.
Each preteen has a job.
Our opening session consists of four parts: worship, prayer, memory work, and puppets.
A preteen volunteer leads worship each week, and we choose a worship team to back up the worship leader. This group selects music from pieces kids know. The group practices the songs and motions as time allows. During the service, I always sing with the preteen leader — but he or she has the mic.
A preteen volunteer leads us in prayer. The more often preteens pray aloud, the easier it is to get volunteers. Stay close to the person who’s praying and provide assistance when needed. Preteens have more confidence when they know they can count on you for help. We encourage younger kids to pray aloud as well — sometimes as many as 10 kids pray.
A preteen directs our memory work. We learn verses in a variety of ways — songs, raps, repetition, and games. The preteen leader and I choose the methods together, and we spend time on each passage of Scripture until the kids have all learned it well.
I write puppet scripts a week in advance. Preteens volunteer to be puppeteers, and they assign the puppet characters themselves. Practice takes place with minimal supervision.
I’ll tell you now, if you’re a perfectionist, handing over leadership roles to your preteens isn’t for you. We have a lot of mistakes. That’s okay. We work on puppetry skills. We work on expression in worship. And we make improvements every week. And I’m willing to trade perfection for the opportunity to raise confident young leaders in the church.
Not every preteen wants to be involved in each aspect of ministry. Some have favorite things they like to do. Gabe and Sam both love to operate the projector and do puppets, but neither likes to sing. I’ve made it clear that everybody has to try every role at least once. Both boys know that they’ll be asked to serve on worship team sometime. Still, I try to alternate kids in their favorite positions as much as possible. There are times, though, when my kids have to relinquish their desires to give someone else the chance to lead.
The program doesn’t run itself. I’m in charge, so I must take charge. Preteens aren’t mature enough to handle all the issues that arise. They need help sorting out issues among themselves so they look to me for guidance. They also know I’m the boss, and my word is the last word. My preteens are fine with that as long as I allow them to give plenty of input and seriously consider their suggestions. And believe me, they have some great ideas!
Our younger kids respond very well to the leadership of preteen kids. I love watching little Katie and Betsy stand wide-eyed as our preteen leaders teach them a new action song. The levels of respect, obedience, and effort among younger kids are significantly higher when commanded by our preteens rather than demanded by our adults. Lots of our younger kids aspire to be leaders because of our current preteen leadership team.
Build good preteen leaders.
Because our preteens responded so well to this program, an atmosphere of positive peer pressure prevails. When new kids lack confidence or try to dump negativity on the program, our preteens are quick to boost morale and pressure kids to “try it” before they pass judgment. They also like it because it sets them apart from the younger kids.
Leadership is a team effort, so no one wants to see any part of it fail. When Jamie has difficulties reading a puppet skit, other puppeteers coach him through his lines. Reading is difficult for Jamie, yet he’s very willing to be a puppeteer because he knows he’ll get help if he needs it. Initially I expected our audience to be disinterested by this lack of professionalism. On the contrary, kids are in rapt attention. Jamie is one of their own; they can relate. Isaiah stutters, but he wants to do a puppet. And next week, I’ll let him. With God’s help and the help of his peers, he’ll succeed. No one leads alone.
I’m training people who won’t be afraid to lead in the future. Years from now, when asked to be on a worship team, Langdon will say with confidence, “I can do that. I’ve done it before.” When asked to pray in public, Katie will say yes because she’s had experience. When asked to teach children with puppets, Abby, Lizzie, and Kelsi will do it because they’ve done it before. Our youth pastor is excited that in another year I’ll be passing on a seasoned junior high worship team. I’m excited to be impacting future generations for Jesus today.
Gary Forslund is children’s minister in Stanwood, Washington.
Looking for more ways to connect with the preteens in your ministry? Check out Group’s BE BOLD Sunday school curriculum. BE BOLD was made just for preteens and their questions. In this curriculum, you’ll find tips on how to validate preteens’ faith questions, connect with them, and explore their questions together. For more preteen teaching tips, check out these posts!
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