Reaching Preteens by JC

I’m excited to have JC Thompson do another guest post for JC Thompson is the founder of a site that provides resources for preteen ministry. He is married to Kristen, his wife for 3 years and works as the Switch Pastor at Brookwood Church in Simpsonville, SC.

In your preteen ministry, it’s important for you to know the kinds of students that you are reaching. So, I’ve decided to pull some stats and insights from my year of preteen ministry and compile my overall picture of what a tween actually is. Hope this is helpful and will spur on some good conversations about what you are using to attract tweens and also what you are doing to minister to them.

First we will go with the definition from about who or what is a tween

a youngster between 10 and 12 years of age, considered too old to be a child and too young to be a teenager.

I would add that because of differing maturation rates and physical development that the ages should be widened from about 9-13. The width of this group is so much more than age. Some tweens are completely ready to jump into teenagery with it’s identity crises and relationship drama, while others are completely content with pets, toys, and paintball. The group that is known as tweens or preteens are incredibly diverse.

Marketing to Tweens

The word tween, started being used by Disney in the early 90s to advertise to this particular 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 that this group is incredibly separate when it comes to media and 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.

Tweens as Consumers

I think one thing that is understated when it comes to today’s tweens and teens is how incredibly savvy they are as consumers. Marketers understand that this is the most incredibly skeptical generation that has ever existed and when it comes to 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 of the decisions as a group.

How do you Minister to these Tweens’ Consumer Preferences?

Our 90s production driven version of student ministry isn’t a draw to students anymore. Here is what our Associate and Missions Pastor, Fenton Moorhead, relayed to our Student Ministry staff:

What you will need to figure out is this: How do we attract a crowd, without trying to impress them?

Fenton has decades of experience not just in ministry, but in youth ministry. And that is the question when it comes to tweens, if we want them to come to our services, events, classes, ministries, or to serve, give, live out their faith. How can we convince them without trying to impress them.

How to get Tweens to Buy-in

Find and develop peer influencers. Who are the students that are influencing your group? Just like you want to recruit volunteers that naturally influence others, you also want to develop those students who are natural influencers.

Place emphasis on relational ministry. The best thing that happened at Switch this year was C-Groups (our student ministry small groups outside of programming). I didn’t even want to communicate them because most tweens that are here, attend because their parent’s are involved. This past week (week before last week of groups) we had over 50 students here on a Wed. Night in addition to 3 other groups of girls that meet 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 what I call “free time”. I know this might sound elementary to some, but when I started in ministry, I wanted to program absolutely everything. Every minute, every transition, and every phrase was programmed. I realize more and more that these tweens need time to connect in ways that are native to them and not the leader.

Teach in a relational way that emphasizes the love that your leader has for the Bible. If you don’t love the Bible, your tweens won’t either.

Make change a part of your culture. As much as your tweens with ADHD are changing their focus. Change the look, feel, and delivery, but keep the main things the main things.


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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, Children's Director at La Jolla Presbyterian Church, workshop speaker and author of an ongoing preteen column in Children's Ministry Magazine.