Ages and Stages: The Tween Years—

I was really proud of the Kids Ministry our congregation poured into when I was on staff as the Children’s Ministry Director. We had a robust volunteer list and always found help when we needed it. (Shocking, I know!) However, there was one hole that I was never able to fill, no matter how many people I asked, and that was the 4th and 5th grade class, or the “tweens.”  For too long there was nothing at all for this group at our church. This weighed heavily on me, so when I moved into a volunteer role, I knew exactly where I was most needed. I often joked that God (not so graciously) saved this class just for my husband. Teaching tweens came with many challenges but as always, the Holy Spirit was faithful to lead and guide us along the way.

An abundance of research has proven how formative kids are during these early years. They long to be “grown up” even though they still have the same basic needs as young children: to be loved, to feel safe, to have fun, etc. Yet, they also crave responsibility and purpose, ready to take an active role in the church and perhaps make a public profession of faith. George Barna says in his book, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions, “The statistics pertaining to the spiritual life and experience of children are rather alarming. The facts: people are much more likely to accept Christ as their savior when they are young, absorption or biblical information and principles typically peaks during the preteen years. Attitudes about the viability and value of church participation form early in life. Habits related to the practice of one’s faith develop when one is young and change surprisingly little over time.”

It’s clear how crucial this time really is for tweens and how imperative it is to disciple them well. So, let’s get into some practical ways you can create an environment to educate, connect, and establish a love and commitment to God and His church.

  • Talk to the parents. First and foremost, parents are primarily responsible for the spiritual development of their children. Still, there should be a rich connection between the church and parents. The students in your class have a personality and attitude that only their parents can interpret. Learn from them, use them, and most importantly, encourage and support the parents of your tweens.
  • Set goals for your time together. This will look different for each class. For example, I have taught groups of kids who had a great foundation coming into my class which meant our weekly meetings were a bit more rigorous. However, recently I began teaching a group of tweens who had missed almost two years of consistent Sunday School due to Covid, so our weekly goals have been more basic and less intimidating. Ultimately, our common goal as the church is to proclaim, admonish, and teach everyone with all wisdom, so that they may present themselves fully mature in Christ. ( 1:28-29). Let that be what ultimately guides you when setting goals for your time together.
  • Make relationships a priority. Make an effort to connect with your students in and out of the classroom. For example, I make a point to spend time just hearing from the students. What did they do this past week? Did their favorite sports team win? How did they do on that big test? Be warned, asking the right questions might derail your class schedule quite a bit. (But in the best possible way!)
  • Encourage questions. You want to be a safe place for any and all questions. Be comfortable saying, “I’m not sure about that” and “Let me research and I’ll follow up next week!” Keep notecards in your classroom, available to anyone who has a question that might require a thoughtful, clear response.
  • Establish and maintain authority. This is crucial for this age group! “We must maintain loving authority in our homes/classrooms; nurture covenant relationships with our students; and provide instruction, application, and opportunities for them to develop in wisdom, stature, favor with God and favor with man.” (Susan Hunt, Heirs of the Covenant) Tweens, like any age, need structure to truly learn AND to have fun. Put in place some “classroom expectations.” Be sure that the parents are made aware of these expectations as well so that you can work together in maintaining a fruitful and fun environment.
  • Separate boys and girls. The difference in maturity between boys and girls is vast. Girls want to sit and discuss what they’re learning while the majority of boys need to be moving and active. There are many other factors as to why splitting up genders during the tween years is beneficial, so if it is a possibility for you (I recognize it’s not a viable option for everyone), I highly encourage it!
  • Serve! This age group wants to have responsibility and purpose. Maybe that means helping in children’s church once a month or serving as a greeter before the service. Being involved in ministry will remind your students that they are a part of God’s family, here to serve rather than to be served (Matt. 20:28). It will also establish the habit of service for years to come.
  • Get the church leaders involved. I have found that you will have the most success in your ministry if the effort to nurture the faith of children is understood and supported by the church’s pastors, elders, and deacons. When the time comes for children to make a public profession of faith it will benefit them tremendously to know their church leaders and for their church leaders to know This happens by having church leaders teach, engage, and just show up (maybe to help answer some of those tough questions!).

“Raising spiritual champions is beyond your capabilities—but not beyond your personal responsibility. (Prov. 3:5-6) Yes, we are a fallen people. But God. God has blessed you with the opportunity to support parents and disciple children. He will provide, He will sustain” (George Barna, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions).

 What a privilege to teach the tweens in your congregation! It will not be done without challenges. However, I am confident God will guide you and reveal Himself to you in new ways as you teach the next generation the glorious deeds He has done!

Recommended Resources..
  • Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions by George Barna
  • Heirs of the Covenant by Susan Hunt
  • The Way They Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias
  • Resilient by Valerie Bell
  • Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson

Joanna Thompson has been involved in children’s ministry in one capacity or another for over 15 years. Her passion to point the next generation to Christ is rooted in her love for the local church and desire to see it thrive and be fruitful. She believes that as members of Christ’s family, it’s our responsibility (and privilege) to contribute to the meaningful and beautiful work of ministering to children. Joanna lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband Brett and four kids.