Home Children's Ministry Leaders Articles for Children's Ministry Leaders What Is a Tween: A Close-up Look at Preteen Kids

What Is a Tween: A Close-up Look at Preteen Kids

what is a tween

In your tween ministry, it’s important to know who you’re ministering to. That’s why I’ve gathered some stats and insights from my preteen ministry and compiled an overall picture of what is a tween. I hope this spurs good conversations about how you’re ministering to these kids.

What Is a Tween: A Definition (Sort of)

According to the dictionary, a tween is “a youngster between 10 and 12 years of age, considered too old to be a child and too young to be a teenager.”

I’d add that because of differing maturation rates and physical development, the ages should be from about 9 to 13. The width of this group is so much more than age. Some tweens are completely ready to jump into adolescence, with its identity crises and relationship drama. Meanwhile, others are completely content with pets, toys, and paintball. So what is a tween? Because that group is incredibly diverse, a concise definition is tough to pinpoint.

Marketing to Tweens

Disney started using the word tween in the early ’90s to advertise to this age group. In fact, according to Children and Advertising by William M. O’Barr, “Marketers no longer target kids aged 2–11 as one segment. Instead, they target four specific demographics: toddlers (0–3), preschoolers (2–5), children (6–8), and tweens (9–12).” This means the group is incredibly separate regarding marketing attention and branding practices.

Tweens have buying power, too: “Spending statistics show 8- to 12-year-olds spend $30 billion of their own money each year and influence another $150 billion of their parents’ spending,” according to the same study.

What Is a Tween: An Economic Perspective

One factor that’s often understated is how incredibly savvy today’s tweens are as consumers. Marketers realize this is the most incredibly skeptical generation ever, and with advertisements, tweens don’t like to be sold. In fact, most of their consumer decisions and preferences come from their peer group. Their friends are making more and more decisions as a group.

Our ’90s-style, production-driven version of student ministry isn’t a draw to kids anymore. Our longtime Associate and Missions Pastor, Fenton Moorhead, relays this message to our staff: “You need to figure out: How do we attract a crowd without trying to impress them?”

That’s the question we must ask if we want tweens to come to our worship services, events, classes, and ministries. It’s how we’ll get them to serve, give, and live out their faith. How can we convince preteens without trying to impress them?

What Is a Tween: How to Get Buy-in

  • Find and develop peer influencers. Which students influence your group? Just as you want to recruit volunteers who naturally influence others, you also want to develop students who are natural influencers.
  • Emphasize relational ministry. The best thing that happened at Switch this year was C-Groups (our student ministry small groups). Most of our tweens attend church because their parents are involved. But this past week, more than 50 students showed up on a Wednesday night. In addition, three other groups of girls met in homes. Our retention of first-time guests for C-groups completely blows away that of our Sunday Morning Large Group Experience. Relationships for all ages are sticky.
  • Provide “free time.” This might sound elementary, but when I started in ministry, I wanted to program absolutely everything. We programmed every minute, every transition, and every phrase. Now I realize tweens need time to connect in ways that are native to them, not to the leader.
  • Teach in a relational way. Emphasize your love for God’s Word. If you don’t love the Bible, tweens won’t either.
  • Make change part of your culture. Change the look, feel, and delivery, but keep the main things the main things.

What Is a Tween: Helpful Resources

Parents: Understand Your Influence

Yes, your tweens influence your buying decisions. But don’t underestimate the influence you have on your tweens. Everything your tween can touch is under your watch. Make sure you’re involved in the decisions, relationships, and values your tweens make on a day-to-day basis. Parents, you make a difference!

Two More Tips for Ministering to Tweens

  • Relationships are king!
  • If you can teach tweens how to make decisions and work in relationships completely built on a foundation of Christ, then you have a revolution on your hands. It’s why at Switch we want tweens to make wise choices and develop positive relationships. But mostly, we want students to know this: When they find their identity in Christ and his love for them, then their choices, relationships, and identity all change to look like that of Jesus.
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J.C. Thompson is the 5th & 6th Grade Director at Brookwood Church in Simpsonville, SC, one of Outreach magazine’s Top 100 Largest Churches in America.