I was particularly excited to write this post. One reason is because the first opportunity I was ever given in ministry was when I was a freshman in college and my pastor believed in me enough to give me a shot at leading a Jr. High Sunday School Class (trust me, it was a big risk on his behalf). Another reason is that Mike Branton happens to be on my team at Sun Valley and I’m just super proud of him!
During the last couple of years there has been a slowly growing trend in churches across America. Churches are pulling their preteens out of children’s and student ministries and ministering to this demographic uniquely. Fueled by kids “growing up too quick,” the age of adolescents dropping, and ministries and organizations like FourFiveSix, Orange, preteenministry.net, and Christ in Youth hitting the scene, this preteen movement is gaining traction in the church. If you’re not thinking Preteen Ministry at your church, you need to be.
Last week I had the unique opportunity to sit down with Mike Branton, the Preteen Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church and Christ in Youth National Preteen Pastor of the Year, to talk about this emerging ministry. The interview is below:
Paul: What does the label “Preteen Ministry” mean and why is this something that churches should be paying attention to?
Mike: Fundamentally Preteen Ministry is ministry to students who are moving through the transition from childhood to adolescence. You’re typically talking about students who are between 8 and 12 years old and in 4th – 6th grade. During the preteen years human beings develop physically and mentally faster than at any other stage of life other than the infant and toddler phase. Preteens are moving from concrete to abstract thinking. They are thinking less about the faith of their family and more about their own faith and figuring out what they believe. They are at a time in their lives where their identity is being formed; they’re less inhibited and as a result are more open to inviting friends, sharing the Gospel, and combating injustice in the world. Their ability to understand and respond to the Gospel provides us with a unique opportunity that few Churches are taking advantage of.
Paul: What are some of the unique dynamics of preteen ministry?
Mike: Preteen students are beginning to experiment and explore with their identity both socially and sexually. They are often prematurely exposure to adult ideas and concepts without having a developed faculty to truly handle it. Some still believe in Santa Clause and have teddy bears and some of them are sleeping with their boyfriends. And some are doing both of those. Finally, increased specialization at an early age regarding extracurricular activities such as the arts and sports are limiting healthy experimentation and growth.
Paul: The reality is that the majority of churches can’t afford to hire someone to specifically minister to preteens. What can churches do?
Mike: Every healthy church has preteens in it. They may be a part of the Children’s Ministry or a part of the Student Ministry, or simply in a Sunday School Class. But whatever the form, churches can take the step to have a couple of volunteers focus specifically on this group of students. Churches can partner with parents by helping to equip them to know what to expect during the preteen years. We’re talking about kids who are challenged to succeed in every other area of their lives. Churches need to shift their thinking and stop viewing these students as “just kids” so that they’ll begin to expect more from them in their journey with Christ. Finally if they can, churches can give them their own space, even a simple classroom. These students want their door locked and decorated at home so why not appropriately support that at church. Space matters. It shows value, and helps build identity and connection.
Mike Branton is the Preteen Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church Gilbert Campus, a contributing writer for K-magazine, part of the FourFiveSix Team, and the Christ in Youth National Preteen Pastor of the year.
You can connect with Mike on Facebook