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The How and Why of Preteen Growth Groups

Many preteens in your group want to grow in their relationship with God. They want to own that relationship for themselves. Not all are ready, but many are eager. How do you provide preteens an opportunity to grow?

One proven method is launching preteen growth groups.

I’m going to share with you the how and why of preteen growth groups. Over the years, we have had huge success with this model. Actually, it’s been one of the most effective things we’ve done. But it is only one way. My hope is that this article will challenge you to create something unique in your setting.

Here are the nuts and bolts of growth groups:

We required preteens to sign up. We realized that not every preteen was a follower of Jesus and that not every Christ follower in our group wanted to grow. We respected that following Jesus was a process, and only a percentage of our group wanted to go deeper with God. The sign-up process put the power in the hands of the student. It required them to make a choice to grow.

Because preteens had to sign up, only those who were eager to grow were present. That created an ideal environment. These students were often overlooked at our weekend services. Our church did a fantastic job of reaching newcomers, which included first time visitors and those new to the group. As a result, we had to adjust our services to be newcomer friendly. The challenge was that those who really wanted to grow weren’t given an opportunity to do so. Growth groups solved that problem.

We ran various types of growth groups for 6-8 weeks at a time. The various types provided preteens with options. Some titles included: Becoming a Contagious Christian, Discovering My Spiritual Gifts, Prayer 101, Bible Basics, Bible Study (book of James or Proverbs), and more. Our team got really good at taking the courses available to adults at our church and making it preteen friendly. I encourage you to do the same. However, if you’re looking for great preteen small group series, check out some available at PreteenMinistry.net; What’s the Bible All About?, Preteens Can Pray, and Not Even a Hint. We found that doing them for only 6-8 weeks at a time kept the retention ratio higher and was easier to fit in the busy schedules of preteens.

We did growth groups at a host home. Out of a total of about 100 preteens, 20-30 would sign up for growth groups. So that meant a lot of preteens at somebody’s house. We chose to do them at a house because it created a deep sense of community. However, a preteen friendly room at church would work great as well. The host home usually consisted of a hospitable couple who loved opening their house up to the group. They simply provided the space for us and enjoyed being a part of the experience that way.

Our schedule was simple. We hung out and ate snacks for about 15 minutes, engaged in 10-15 minutes of worship, and then split up into various groups throughout the house.

The hang out time was simple. We had no video games, art projects, or tabletop games, etc. All our other programs, we had those things available before and afterwards. But we didn’t have the space for them in a living room. So we just ate and hung out. As a result, the group developed a deep sense of connectivity It was awesome!

The worship was intimate. We had the core group present who wanted to know God more. Their hearts were eager to connect with God and wanted to engage in worship. So worship was a time preteens honored God and connected with Him. We had a volunteer who showed up with a guitar and led us in a few worship songs. Simple but effective.

After worship, preteens broke out into various growth groups (the ones they signed up for) that met throughout the home. We had two leaders in each room who co-led the groups.

What results did we see? Preteens took off the training wheels of their faith and took ownership of their relationship with God. They were aware of what God was doing around them and learned to hear His voice in their lives. They developed a hunger for the Bible. They discovered their spiritual gifts and began to use them. They were equipped to reach out to their friends who weren’t followers of Jesus. Preteens experienced God. All types of amazing things happened!

I encourage you to design a program that helps your preteens grow. Maybe it looks similar to what I’ve written here or maybe quite different. Spend some time praying for what it would look like at your church with your preteens. Pull your leaders together and brainstorm possibilities. Just imagine how the preteens you lead could be forever transformed as a result!

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Over twelve years ago Nick Diliberto lauched a preteen ministry with a handful of volunteers and about 25 kids. Over the years it grew to over 100 kids and has impacted hundreds of young people's lives. Nick is the driving force behind PreteenMinistry.net, Children's Director at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, workshop speaker and author of an ongoing preteen column in Children's Ministry Magazine.