How to retain Preteens

5 Communication Tips so our Churches don’t lose Preteens

It’s sobering. I’m sure you saw the recent preteens trends. In it, Barna was super clear and scary. Our 8- to 12-year-olds are “on track to abandon Biblical Christianity in record numbers.” 

Let’s not sit back while this happens. Remember that helping preteens maintain a strong connection to Biblical Christianity involves effective communication that engages their hearts and minds while addressing their questions and doubts. 

Here are 5 communication tips to prevent preteens from abandoning Biblical Christianity and the church:

  1. Be Known for Authenticity and Transparency: Acknowledge that faith can be complex and that it’s normal to have questions and doubts. Share your struggles and experiences with faith in a relatable and non-judgmental manner. Create a safe and open environment where preteens feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, uncertainties, and fears without being scared of judgment or condemnation.
  2. Be Known for Meaningful Relationships and Mentoring: Pair preteens with caring and supportive adult mentors or small group leaders who can provide guidance, encouragement, and spiritual support. Encourage regular interactions through one-on-one meetings, small group discussions, or shared activities. They can be a source of strength, accountability, and encouragement as preteens navigate their faith journey. Make sure it intertwines with their purpose too (Barna explains that “only… [27%] identified knowing, loving and serving God… as their chief purpose in life.”)
  3. Be Known for Engaging Apologetics and Intellectual Exploration: There are challenging questions and objections to the Christian faith that they have. So, offer apologetics resources and study materials that address common misconceptions and challenges raised against Christianity. Encourage preteens to explore the evidence for the Christian faith critically and intellectually, empowering them to articulate and defend their beliefs confidently. Provide opportunities for open discussion where preteens can ask tough questions and wrestle with complex theological issues in a supportive environment. Barna warns us that “only… [21%] believe that absolute moral truth exists.” Teach them otherwise.
  4. Be Known for Relevant and Relatable Teaching: Deliver teaching that is relevant, relatable, and applicable to the lives of a preteen. Connect Biblical truths to real-life experiences and concerns that preteens may face daily. Use illustrations, stories, and examples that resonate with preteens’ interests, struggles, and aspirations, demonstrating how faith intersects with their identities, relationships, and goals. Not sure if you’re doing this well? Ask them and adjust to meet their needs.
  5. Be Known for Encouragement of Biblical Discipline: Provide guidance and resources on prayer, Bible study (Barna says “only 21% view the Bible as the source for determining right and wrong”), worship, and service, highlighting the importance of cultivating a personal relationship with God. Create practical opportunities for preteens to engage in your church services, student Bible studies, and outreach projects. Build a sense of belonging within your church family. This strong sense of community will help them not want to leave (now or later).

While becoming known for these, remember to listen attentively, empathize with their struggles, and walk alongside them with grace, love, and compassion as they navigate the complexities of faith and identity. In 2024, it’s difficult to be the “coming of age” generation. And yes, it’s much different than when we experienced it. Acknowledge that to them. Be known for praying for the next generation!

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