In weekly services, there’s STRUCTURE and CONTENT. I acknowledged that content communicated a message; I didn’t see the power, however, that structure had. Then it hit me: there was a disconnect between our intended message and the structure. If we wanted preteens to develop their own understanding of God, why were weekly services structured to communicate MY understanding of God? Sure, there was always time for “application”… but I chose the principle they were applying. If I believe God’s invisible qualities are plain to ALL men—why act like the only one in the room who sees them?
We were using a children’s ministries model—one that is an effective structure for children’s ministries—but not for preteen ministry. Preteens are ready to have their own understanding of and relationship with God, to take the first steps of walking with the Lord on their own.
And while our content met preteens where they were, our structure didn’t. So, starting with a blank slate, we came up with a new structure for weekly services. Actually, it was three new structures—one for each of our goals:
#1. Know God as He reveals Himself to them.
#2. Have a foundation of truth on which to build their faith and walk.
#3. Become disciples of Christ, following Him in a deeper way.
Of the new structures that we developed, we’ve had great success with the one we’ve developed to support goal #1. These we call our “reveal services.” The structure isn’t perfected, but hopefully it’s a catalyst for thinking outside the traditional CM box. Volunteers meet before reveal services, praying that God will reveal Himself to the preteens.
PART I – FUN (30-40 min.)
We begin with hang-out time (a variety of games and activities to choose from) and move towards all-group activities (60-second challenges, upbeat worship). Preteens help create this time; imagine the impact when we sing a song they suggested or play a game they invented? Meanwhile, volunteers are checking in with preteens. Our job is to create a welcoming, joyful atmosphere. This portion of service communicates, “We want you here. There is a place for you.”
PART II – “Where you at?” (15 min.)
A student comes forward to pray that God will reveal Himself during service. Afterward, I’ll have somebody share what their week was like. Now, preteens approach me during the “FUN” time and ask to share with everybody about their lives, even challenging situations.
Now students are prepared; we break into groups, and each preteen has the option to share where they are. Sometimes, we’ll use a question to focus the discussion. (“What’s the most difficult situation you are dealing with right now?”) Sometimes an activity does the job (“Put your shoe somewhere on this target to show how close you feel with your parents right now.”) The goal is not that our volunteers would be counselors or that we would solve everybody’s problems. The goal is to give the students room to be who they are and to communicate: “God is going to meet you where YOU are.”
PART III – THE REVEAL (20 min.)
When students come back together, each one is given paper and pen. With great excitement, I tell them “Get ready. God is about to reveal something about Himself to us. I don’t know what it is yet.” Then, the students are presented with something—perhaps a story from the Bible, a testimony, a song, a video of nature—anything that reveals who God is. (Make a list of what reveals God to you. You’ll realize there’s no end to the things you can use for this section.)
Students will then write something that God revealed to them or questions they have about God. Then, in the large group setting, people share what they wrote. I become a facilitator, using scripture to reinforce truths that preteens speak and asking questions to keep them on the right track. When students share questions about God, I’ll say, “Hmmm … that’s a great question. What do YOU think?” Most of the time, they answer their own question. Sometimes, other students will help.
The results have been SO AMAZING! God really is revealing Himself to preteens. All we need to do is give time and space to explore and share. And a little guidance, too.
PART IV – THE INTERSECTION (20 min.)
We return to small groups, and leaders continue the discussion that began during the reveal portion. The goal is to do this in a way that the knowledge of God’s truth would come from the mouths of the preteens.
Also, during this small group time, leaders have been prepared with a question, which is different from week to week, but has the same basic direction—”How does what you learned about God tonight help you in your life?” The service has come full circle. We started with “Where are you at?” and moved to God being revealed. This part of the service ties the two together.
After the students have had these incredible encounters with God, we worship Him. These times of worship have been amazing. The room is full of preteens connecting with God ON THEIR OWN.
The hardest thing for me is that I love to teach and I think I’m pretty good at it. So, when I see, during our reveal services, that God can teach the preteens in a much more profound way than I can, it’s very humbling.