Redefining Preteen Ministry

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Ministries / Preteen //

How should my weekly preteen ministry services be structured? Considering this question has changed everything.

When I started full-time ministry, I didn’t know what to do, so I copied the format that was handed down to me from my predecessor. I kept the elements of live worship and adult leaders, creative teaching and discussion questions. Over time, I’ve changed things like the seating format or the order of service, but it really was nothing revolutionary, just baby steps towards … towards … hmmm … what was I moving toward?

Then, about two years ago, I was challenged with this idea: “the method is the message.” What we are teaching isn’t found so much in the message that is spoken from the stage. What we are really teaching is found in the structure and delivery of everything we do. If the message this week is “Christians are kind”, for example, that is going to be learned if the leaders in our service show kindness. The message “Christians are kind” will not be internalized simply from a Bible story about kindness taught creatively.

After the Preteen Leaders’ Conference, I spent the next month deconstructing everything related to our weekly service. And while there are plenty of great service models (learning centers, large group/small group, traditional Sunday school), none of the methods were conveying the message that I wanted our preteens to get. I knew the philosophy of my ministry was found in’sThe Bike.” I knew the research that backed up the necessity for preteen ministry. But something was missing: a delivery method for the message that truly fit the message we were trying to deliver!

I sought God as to what we should be doing with those precious 90-minute opportunities that we have every week. Starting with a blank sheet of paper, my goal was to completely redefine what those minutes would look like. Nothing was guaranteed to survive the process … not small group time, not music, not even teaching. I was even open to the possibility that I’d complete the redefining process and have exactly the same product that I had before. When the dust cleared, I ended up with a new model of ministry—one that is exciting to watch unfold each week.

During the redefining process there were some “aha moments.” The first was clarity in our goals. Namely, that the preteens would:

  • know God, as He revealed Himself to them;
  • have a foundation of truth on which to build their faith and walk;
  • become disciples of Christ, following Him in a deeper way.

The second “aha” moment came at 2 am one night. I woke up troubled, but I didn’t know why. I wrote out my thoughts until the thing that was troubling me bubbled to the surface and spilled onto my journal. When I wrote this sentence, I realized the burden that many of us in ministry carry:  “I am focused on something that I can’t do—producing faith in others.

Look at the three goals listed above. At most, I could do one of those—give preteens a foundation of truth. But I can’t make somebody be a follower of Christ, and I certainly can’t cause God to reveal Himself to our preteens. And yet, my greatest desire is to produce faith in preteens. Jesus Himself tells us to make disciples of all the nations. SO … how can I do this impossible thing that I desire to do and that Christ commands us to do? How can I do something that I can’t do?

I felt great peace when I realized that God will do these things, not me; that my role is to step into the background and simply be His agent for producing the results. I can’t produce the results, but God can produce the results through me. I am an apple tree; producing faith in preteens is the apples. My work is to simply drink the living water, soak up the Son, and enjoy the breeze.

After a month of wrestling, redefining, questioning, praying, journaling, and brainstorming, something new emerged. A brand new model of ministry—which uniquely filled the void that our preteen ministry had—a method that, within itself, conveys the message. It’s a model that fits our mission statement which is this: “Building on a foundation of Truth, preteens will move towards THEIR OWN understanding of and relationship with God, and they will move toward following Jesus Christ ON THEIR OWN.”

Next month, I’ll give a breakdown of this new model. While it will hopefully be useful to you, perhaps what would be more useful is if you would go through the process of redefining your weekly services. Start with a blank piece of paper. Ask difficult questions about your methods and the message they convey. Wrestle with the question: “How should my weekly preteen ministry services be structured?”





About the Author

Sean Sweet leads a preteen ministry with his wife and two beautiful daughters in Rocklin, California. He is the director for the Preteen Leaders' Conference and a founding member of In addition, he loves Baja Fresh and his Snuggie.