For the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing about how a preteen ministry can leap from good to great. If you want, read secret #1 and secret #2, and get caught up.
How much time do you spend on creating programming content? The first preteen ministry I launched grew quite rapidly from a small to large group in a few short years. In the early days, I had time for relationships with preteens. I could grab a leader or two and invite a small group of preteens to eat some pizza together. However, as we grew, more time was dedicated to putting together programming for our weekend services, which was up to 8 at one time, small groups, events, camps and the list goes on.
What suffered most? Building and maintaining strong relationships is what suffered, which brings us to secret #3 to a great preteen ministry.
Key #3: Relationships Trump Programming
Before I elaborate, let me say that programming is important. Relevant, creative and engaging programming is a key to a great preteen ministry. After all, if the programming is boring and irrelevant, preteens disengage. You can’t have a great preteen ministry without good programming.
The danger is when programming trumps relationships. When programming takes up most of our time and attention, relationships usually suffer. If we’re the leader mostly building relationships with preteens, those relationships suffer. If our main relational role is to develop leaders and build relationships with them, we spend less time doing that. We get so consumed with programming that we don’t adequately train leaders to build relationships with preteens.
Relationships are more powerful than programming.
Strong relationships are the key to a great preteen ministry. When leaders place a high value on building strong relationships, they help preteens own their faith in Jesus. They become Jesus in flesh as they walk through a divorce with preteens. They’re a shoulder to cry on when dealing with a bullies at school. Peer relationships are also critical. Preteens talk about their personal lives, ask questions about God, express their doubts and grow stronger in their relationships with Jesus when real community is happening. Once preteens are well connected to leaders and each other, their relationship with God flourishes. The goal is to do life together with God in the picture. God becomes the center of the relationships. God becomes a Person they regularly engage with. God becomes a friend who is alive and active in and around them. Relationships trump programming any day of the week.
In the early days of preteen ministry, our programming wasn’t all that good. But relationships were strong. We eventually learned some things and improved on programming quite some bit. But as I reflect on the early days, what made it a great ministry were the quality relationships preteens had with leaders, each other and God.
Programming does play a role in a great preteen ministry, but it is second to strong relationships within the group. I will write more about the role of programming in the next “good to great” post. So, stay tuned.