This seems like a cry for help we’ve surely heard many times in our churches. It’s definitely what we experienced as a ministry, but it was also the moment we realized how important kids between the ages of 10 and 13 truly are. They didn’t seem to fit in anywhere; they were too big for the Kids Zone and definitely too young for the youth meeting…so now what?
We tend to enthusiastically announce the family meetings and youth meetings, spaces that have been perfectly defined. The Kids Zone (more elaborate spaces) have also evolved in our churches, but many times we fall short when we think about what to do with the pre-teens. This age group can be a headache for some, but when we are able to understand how to work with them, they will become one of the greatest strengths in our ministries. The first thing you need to understand, like I had to, is the great need of giving them a space within the church and an identity. When we did this, we were able to see a clear evidence of what God could do in them when we focused on their spiritual need. When these ages experience the fire of God, understanding that God called them for big things and that He is counting on them, they become passionate for Him and will be able to face their youth and adult life strong and steadfast. Set apart for Him.
This world doesn’t stop, it continuously bombards them with new things and fills them with content with the sole objective of sowing in them inferiority complexes and insecurities. It makes them believe that they are facing this new stage alone and that no one understands them. The purpose of all of this is to separate them from God. We saw the need to look for a time to separate them from everything so they could draw near to a God who understands them and knows them better than anyone else.
What God has allowed us to create for them is the Pre Teen Camp, which we hold once a year. We understood that this was the opportunity to separate them from every distraction. We believe that camps are in God’s heart; just look at the people of Israel in the Old Testament. He took them apart to give them a new land and it was in the camp where they had supernatural experiences with a living God. This camp is designed specifically for these ages. They can get away and have an encounter with God; it’s a space where we have witnessed first hand how God has surprised them, healed them, restored them and filled them with an indescribable faith. These ages are passionate when they are set on fire.
To make this camp happen, we start preparing 10 weeks before. We start with a workshop for the parents of every child, where we teach them this is about teamwork, and that as parents they are the first reflection of God the pre-teens encounter daily. Every week, the challenge is for the pre-teens to know Jesus more, develop spiritual disciplines and to dream with being a part of the camp.
The months before the camp are like months of spiritual training. Through activities, challenges and homework, they feel they are preparing for a supernatural encounter with God. This age group loves to be challenged, which is why their preparation includes a set of challenges they need to complete. A few examples are to help out with the chores around the house and check-off their daily reading goal and daily devotional. Because the camp is in January, they’re preparing in December, so they are also challenged to prepare a gift to donate to a non-profit organization, give a gift to a child in need they know, or others activities of the same style.
How we do it:
While the pre-teens are getting ready, so is our volunteer team. They are the ones who will be with the pre-teens throughout the camp, taking care of every detail (spiritual and operative) so that everything goes smoothly. Even though we want to have it all under control, God always surprises us, isn’t that what we truly want after all? This team that serves is impacted year after year how God fixes His eyes on the pre-teens and how they are filled by Him.
This year, our camp’s theme was Back to the Start. When God created every pre-teen, He had a clear and very defined idea. Unfortunately, as they grew up, they may have made the mistake of not keeping this great idea in mind and took their own decisions that strayed them from God’s original idea. That’s why this camp’s main objective was for every pre-teen to know God’s original idea for their lives and accept to live it.
We know you have pre-teens in your church, so we want to give you the following advice:
-Give them their place: Camp is one of the spaces that is truly their own amongst the church meetings. This will make them feel important and useful in the hands of God.
– Research and be a friend: Identify, observe and specialize in these ages. Become familiar with their needs, dreams, and doubts. This way you will be able to answer their questions in light of the Word. If they find friends in the church, they won’t look for them out of the church.
– Motivate them to seek a real God: Teach them that God is their best friend! They need to know it’s more than just spiritual knowledge; motivate them to live what they know, to live experiences with God that they will value and never forget. Those are the moments that will truly mark their lives.
-Don’t treat them like little kids: The pre-teens don’t like to be treated like kids or underestimated. But we must also avoid making the mistake of treating them like adults. They still like to play, compete, complete challenges and love prizes.
Take all of this and make the space you create for the pre-teens their favorite place in the world. Remember that what you sow in this age group, you will reap in the following generation of youth that will impact the world.
So now, what will you do with the pre-teens?