8 Reasons Pre-Teens Disengage from Children's Ministry (and how to prevent it)

I have noticed a trend over the years.  When kids move into their pre-teen years, a notable percentage of them disengage from Children's Ministry.

Why?  Here's eight reasons.

1. Placing them with younger children.
Pre-teens are very conscious they are "growing up."  Their eyes are on their approaching middle school years.  The last place they want to be is with "little kids."
  • Provide them with their own environment (class).  Give it a name that is unique to them.  We call our pre-teen environment "Nitro."  It has a very different feel and look from our other environments.  It looks more like a youth ministry environment than it does a children's ministry environment.  That is on purpose.
  • In situations where you can't give them a separate environment, place them in the front of the room.  At some of our campuses, we have all of elementary together due to lack of room availability.  When this is the case, we are intentional about placing the pre-teens in the front.  This gives them a sense of leadership instead of sitting in the back of the room looking at the "little kids" in front of them. 
  • Provide events and activities just for them.  An example would be a summer outreach trip which is just for pre-teens.    
2. Programming for younger children.
One of the biggest factors in keeping pre-teens engaged in your ministry is to program for them.  If pre-teens sense the lesson, music, or activities are "babyish," they will check out.
  • When you have multiple ages in the same room, always target the pre-teen boy.  If you hit him, you will catch everyone.  Cool rolls down hill.  Gene Del Vecchio talks about this in his book "Creating Ever Cool."  It's a must read for children's ministry leaders.
3. Personal connection with a leader is missing.
A personal connection with a caring leader is essential.  When pre-teens are known and loved, they will stay engaged.
  • Make sure your pre-teens spend a good percentage of their time at church in a small group environment where they are known by name, prayed for, and are contacted when absent.  Cool buildings and programming alone doesn't keep pre-teens.  Relationships is the glue.
4. Preparing them for middle school is not a priority.
As kids move into their pre-teen years, our focus should begin to shift toward preparing them for their middle school years.  
5. Passive discipleship.
Pre-teens are ready to serve and make a difference.  When they are confined to passive discipleship where they just "sit and soak", they will disengage.  A huge part of discipleship is serving.  Active faith leads to spiritual growth.
  • Let them own their ministry.  Give them opportunities to serve in their ministry.  Praise team, running sound and tech, greeting, distributing handouts, etc.  Ownership = engagement.
  • Take them on more "outreach" trips than "play" trips.  A few years ago, we moved away from taking our pre-teens on "play" trips such as waterparks, skating, etc.  They can do this anytime.  We decided what they wanted more than this was the opportunity to make a difference.  We now take them on outreach and serving trips instead.  They love it. 
6. Parents are not involved.
In the pre-teen years, kids begin the early stages of becoming independent of their parents.  Parents become nervous as their "baby"  begins to grow up.  It is one of the key times when they will come looking for help.
  • Equip parents to be the spiritual leader of their pre-teen.  No one has more influence in a pre-teen's life than his or her parents.
  • Provide parents with the tools and resources they need to parent their pre-teen.
  • Prepare parents for the middle school years. 
  • Have a retreat or event for pre-teens and their parents.  This fall we will be holding our first-ever pre-teen/parent retreat.  They will spend a day together being equipped and prepared for their upcoming middle school years as well as deepening their relationship with each other.
7. Priorities are misplaced.
As kids move into their pre-teen years, more opportunities to be involved in programs, sports, and other outside activities become available.  These can pull kids away from being consistently involved in church and discipleship opportunities.

How many pre-teens miss church for weeks on end because of traveling sport's teams or other activities?
  • Teach pre-teens the importance of making worship and discipleship a priority.  This must be messaged to parents as well.  Many times it's a parent's misplaced priorities that cause their pre-teen's priorities to become misplaced. 
8. Prayer and other spiritual disciplines are not in place.
By the pre-teen years, kids should be transitioning from being spiritually spoon feed to feeding themselves as well.  Can you imagine an 11-12 year old still sitting in a highchair and being fed by his or her parents?
  • Teach pre-teens the spiritual disciplines. 
  • Give pre-teens the tools they need to feed themselves spiritually.
  • Equip them to know why they believe what they believe.  Their faith must be their own.
Okay.  The floor is yours.  Have you noticed pre-teens disengaging from children's ministry?  If so, what are some things you have done to keep them engaged?  Share your ideas with us below.