Identifying & Reaching Gen Z Preteens

by Matt Rucker

Ministry leaders, Psalm 48:13–14 instructs us to walk in the presence of God so that we may tell the next generation that God is their eternal guide. Whatever generation you may identify with, Generation Z (Gen Z) is the next generation we must reach. Many are misled and misguided, and we have to point them to a God who wants to guide them forever.

Who is Gen Z anyway? More specifically, who are these Gen Z preteens?

There are only 200 weeks before our Gen Z preteens are no longer preteens. That’s not a lot of time. Therefore, it’s paramount that we understand them and know how to respond to them in order to best serve them.

PRETEENS QUESTION THEIR FAITH

  • Most of Gen Z have never attended church, prayed or believed in God, and most have zero religious affiliation. Preteens are a part of the first truly post-Christian generation, so we need to meet them where they are. We must give them a safe place to express their doubts.
  • Your preteens have so many questions about life, God and the Bible. In fact, the questions they wonder about on a daily basis are:
    • Do I have any friends?
    • Who likes me?
    • Who am I?
  • Is your ministry environment safe enough for your students to question their faith? Not “questioning their faith” in the sense of losing it, but getting to the point where they know what they believe and why they believe it. Because if they can come to the beliefs themselves, they will be more likely to keep them.
  • Center your weekly curriculum around questions. Train your small-group leaders to move from lecturers to facilitators. Aim for your small groups to be more dialogue than monologue.
  • Preteens are moving from concrete learners to abstract critical thinkers. They simply need you as a leader to land the plane for them. Boil down your entire message to one thought-provoking question. It’ll get their wheels turning, challenge them to recall what the Bible says, and give them specific points of application.

PRETEENS LIVE IN VIRTUAL REALITY

  • These digital natives spend nearly nine hours a day consuming new media. They multi-task between screens up to 21 times an hour. It’s no wonder their average attention span is less than eight seconds – and now due to COVID-19 – their screen time has skyrocketed even more.
  • Leaders, you’ve pivoted in a massive way during this COVID-19 pandemic season. In just a matter of days, you’ve been forced to digitize your ministries, and the shocking thing is that our ministries will never go back to the way they used to be.
  • Keep producing biblical content that will engage and point your preteens to Jesus. Have in your arsenal parent discipleship tips such as Parent Cue or HomeLife. Plan Zoom lunches where you play Download Youth Ministry(DYM) games and virtually pray for one another. Go through relevant YouVersion Bible reading plans together. FaceTime your students who are trusting in Jesus for the first time or who are interested in baptism. Send a video message wishing your preteen a happy birthday. Have Facebook Live DJ Dance Parties or create fun weekly Instagram challenges.

PRETEENS ARE LONELY, ANXIOUS & DEPRESSED

  • Gen Z may be the most technologically connected generation with instant access at the tip of their thumbs, yet they are the loneliest. More than any generation before them, Gen Z is less social and spends most of their leisure time alone. Even with extra-curricular activities and homework, preteens are still spending most of their time on their screens.
  • Fear of missing out (FOMO), is a legitimate fear that causes our students anxiety. The online world is everyone’s best world. Life is perfect; people look amazing and never fail. They may be up to date on the latest viral video, but they also caught wind of a birthday party that they weren’t invited to. Students crave “likes” and followers and subscribers, and are constantly playing the comparison game.
  • Leaders, we need to educate preteens and their parents of the dangers lurking online. Preteens aren’t just playing Roblox and watching funny cat videos. They are becoming more depressed, dealing with cyberbullies, and are stumbling across pornography.
  • Psychology professor, Jean M. Twenge, reports more screen time inevitably results in less happiness. Spending three hours or more a day on electronic devices means students are 35 percent more likely to be at risk for suicide. The stats keep getting worse. One in three preteens are being cyberbullied, 66 percent of whom are more susceptible to suicide. Then there’s pornography, where preteens first use of pornography is between 11 and 13 years of age for boys and 12 to 14 years of age for girls. Many of them view it so much that they reach a point where they can’t stop.
  • I know it’s easy to get discouraged, but start somewhere. Build relationships with local Christian counselors. Teach a message series on bullying and purity. Get parental consent to teach your preteens about the changes their bodies are making and how to safeguard them from pornography. Recommend tools and Internet accountability software to keep parents in the know about the latest apps and trends, such as:
  • https://meetcircle.com
  • https://www.covenanteyes.com
  • https://protectyoungeyes.com
  • https://www.challies.com/articles/the-porn-free-family-plan/

PRETEENS CAN BE DIFFERENT FROM OLDER GEN Z-ERS 

There are many things that older Gen Z-ers are known for:

  • Highly individualistic
  • Too safe – lacking in courage
  • Cannot agree to disagree

Luckily, our preteens don’t have to follow suit and walk in their footsteps. They can change the narrative that has been written about their generation. So, before your preteens leave your ministry, be sure to encourage them to do the following:

  • Live to serve others (Mark 10:45).
    • Show your preteens the joy of serving others by actually giving them opportunities to serve. Let your students know that they aren’t the Church of the future, but they are the Church now.
    • Create a leadership team. Set expectations, hold them accountable and put them to work.
    • Incorporate family service projects and take them on mission trips. COVID-19 has definitely put a stick of dynamite in all your spring and summer plans, but don’t let that keep you from being on mission for Jesus.
  • Take risks and be courageous (Joshua 1:9).
    • God wants to get our students out of their comfort zones so they can live out this crazy awesome adventure He has in store for them. Preteens need to hear from us that life is hard. This shouldn’t cause them to shrink back in fear; rather, they can learn from these challenging experiences. The beauty of the Gospel is that it’s OK to fail, because Christ has already won for you. We desperately need to paint that reality for our preteens.
  • Adopt what is good and throw out what is bad (Romans 12:9).
    • Preteens need to be taught that people are going to think and believe differently from them, and it’s OK to “agree to disagree” with them. For this reason, as ministry leaders, we need to help our preteens every time we gather to develop a biblical worldview. Then they will be able to decipher evil from good.
    • Your preteens are already thinking about race, gender and all things LGBTQ. Teach them what the Bible says about these issues. Our world is in the midst of not only a viral pandemic, but also a cultural one. Don’t skirt around these uncomfortable topics. If we don’t teach them and we fail to provide parental resources, they’ll find out elsewhere.

CONCLUSION

Did you know that 8 to 14 is the average age that most students trust in Christ? Not only that, 9 is the average age when they develop a moral compass. What an amazing opportunity we have to pour into and shape the next generation of 9- to 12-year-olds.

Plain and simple, if we can reach them as preteens, and even earlier, then they will be more spiritually formed and engaged as they enter into junior high and high school. The earlier they are discipled, the less likely they are to drop their faith altogether and graduate from God.

Matt Rucker is Minister to Preteens in the KIDZ Ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.

Leave a Comment

*