Youve seen a tween. Hes the one who spends hours researching on-line for a
family vacation but is too cool to be seen with his family at Yellowstone. Shes
the 10-year-old who dresses like she just celebrated her sixteenth birthday. He
is a fearless and untouchable teen-wannabe but is afraid to enter the basement
after dark. She intentionally tosses dirty clothes to miss the hamper but goes
out of her way to help an elderly neighbor up icy stairs.
Tweens on missionTweens can develop their on mission potential by participating in RAs
or GAs. To learn more about mission education for tweens, visit www.kidzplace.org and www.gapassport.com. To order the RA starter
kit call 800-448-8032. To order the GA starter kit call 800-968-7301.
Tweens are 8- to 12-year-olds, or children poised on the edge of
As a mom, I struggled during this transition, but I had a lot of company:
Many parents of the between-age kids feel alone and unprepared to deal with the
critical issues that emerge so early.
These are the years when peer pressure becomes a major force. Potential
problems with drugs, alcohol, sex and eating disorders begin to appear. And the
greatest fear for parents looms in the shadows: If I cant handle a 10-year-old,
how will I cope when shes 15? The tween years offer incredible potential for
growing on mission Christians.
However, to successfully connect with tweens, we must understand their 21st
Who are these
tweens?Todays tweens are the confident, high-tech, optimistic,
street-smart and marketing savvy members of the Echo Boom, the largest group of
children in American history. They are 8- to 12-year-olds on a fast track to
They are influenced by new media, virtual friends and the power that comes
with technology. Todays tweens represent the first generation to practice
adolescent independence on the Internet: Tweens do not need parents or teachers
to help them gather information. This instant access to the world through the
Web has bolstered a respect for knowledge. For the second year in a row, 83
percent of 8- to 12-year-olds say: Its cool to be smart.
In the year 2001, its OK to be a geek. This high level of competence with
technology has partially fueled the designation of tweens as the new sweet spot
in marketing. After all, kids now influence more than 70 percent of family food
choices. Nearly two- thirds of parents say their children have influenced their
vehicle purchasing decisions. As a result, car manufacturers are capitalizing
on kidfluence and now target marketing messages to those aged 6 to14.
Money speaks in other ways too: Direct spending by tweens totals an
incredible $14 billion annually.
Has basic development changed
too?Despite cultural changes, tweens still face developmental
issues. Yet even these are being shaped by the 21st century.
Better nutrition is one of the major reasons puberty begins earlier than
ever. As a result, 8- and 9-year-olds may experience the mood swings previously
associated with teens.
Emotionally, tweens cope with new fears. As young children they had
fantasy-based fears: They were afraid of thunderstorms or the dark. But the
reality-based fears of tweens are shaped by their experiences. A 9-year-old who
watched the morning headline news about a local rapist might worry all day
about going home to an empty house.
During these years, peers assume more importance. This influence is common
in areas of style, including haircuts and wardrobe choices. Self-concept is
partially determined by the group to which the tween belongs.
Cognitively, tweens begin to practice new ways of thinking. Although parents
may complain about their self-centered tunnel vision, 8- to 12-year-olds begin
to develop almost-adult levels of thinking. They can visualize changing places
with someone else and project possible behaviors.
For example, an 11-year-old will understand how his dad might react when
basketballs are left in the driveway. Unfortunately, that does not mean a tween
will put away the balls, for tweens grab every opportunity to flaunt their
These newly independent thinkers seek answers in all areas of life. As one
father of a 10-year-old told me, She is beginning to make faith decisions on
her own. This is an important point of a parents daily prayers. Moral and
ethical decisions may be peer-influenced. For example, an 11-year-old may
spontaneously challenge a classmate to pocket a pack of gum from the store
shelf without paying for it.
Historically, tweens have always reality-tested virtues like honesty and
obedience. However, because tweens have grown up in the middle of a national
moral meltdown, their understanding of right and wrong may not be clear-cut.
Yet these situations only hint at the challenges and opportunities we face with
ministry among todays tweens.
What are the implications for
ministry?Todays tweens are ready to be on mission. Fueled by optimism for the
future, this generation of tweens believes it can impact the world. However,
channeling this positive perspective into outreach efforts will require
sensitivity to styles of communication.
The accelerated pace of cyber-speak has shortened the attention span of
tweens and heightened their awareness of visuals. They are accustomed to
multiple information sources, with messages bombarding them from all sides.
In addition, todays kids multi-task. Combining these characteristics means a
tween can visually scan in seconds the church website for a list of prayer
concerns, the youth calendar and Christian concerts. However, because tweens
have an insatiable desire for the newest and most current of everything, the
site will need frequent updating to catch a tweens interest.
Both Christian and non-Christian tweens live in cyberspace: More than 21.9
million tweens are predicted to be online by 2002. These numbers highlight the
tremendous potential for reaching kids through electronic media.
But whatever appears on a site must reflect kid-speak. Todays tweens value
authenticity: Realness is a core value of the current generation.
The most effective way to ensure that a churchs site matches the language
tweens understand is to involve tweens in the site design and upkeep.
A congregation can launch an entire outreach effort by beginning with
For example, we know from developmental research that tweens begin to wonder
about life, death, faith in Jesus Christ and spiritual issues during these
pre-adolescent years. Tweens ask so many questions about theology, some parents
feel their tween is a charter member of Club Doubt. Tween parents are
especially challenged because, for the first time, their children are asking
the same questions they asked. A daily question/answer on the church website
may be targeted to tweens but will have cross-age appeal.
Involving tweens with computers is only one way to capitalize on their
desire to serve. Todays tweens know that serving others feels good: Thats their
motivation. Eight- to 12-year-olds are among the most under-utilized resources
in congregations today.
Tween-style relationship evangelism might take the form of making tray
favors for Meals on Wheels or stringing bead bracelets and hair ornaments to
distribute on short-term mission trips. Whats important is that tweens have the
opportunity to serve joyfully.
When a congregation capitalizes on its tremendous potential to create
honest, emotional bonds with others, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes
the tween interpretation of lifestyle evangelism. For many tweens, their
mission field begins in the living room.
Although spirituality has emerged as an acceptable water cooler topic, many
8- to 12-year-olds are growing up without a Christian history. Equipping these
young on mission Christians takes
on a sense of personal urgency as they become increasingly aware of the
importance of the gospel message.
Today, we are seeing a distinct attitudinal shift, and its starting with
tweens. Many tweens embrace traditional beliefs and value the family unit. This
means, for example, that a 9-year-old may genuinely want to squeeze some family
time between soccer and gymnastics. Churches can find many ways to help family
members connect with each other and provide resources for strengthening
interpersonal ties. Converting trends into outreach opportunities implies that
church leaders will respect the unique 21st century filters through which
tweens and their families view ministry.
Time-starved parents will respond to ministry which fits their family but
does not interrupt their lives. Tweens will connect with service that utilizes
their very real skills and abilities. Congregations that serve as gateways to
Christ in the 21st century will use knowledge about families to form a backdrop
for multiple contact points. Today, tweens and their families are already
imposing new yardsticks for measuring ministry.
We are poised on the brink of a crisis of opportunity: We face a generation
of high-tech tweens who need to know our high-touch God. In what ways will you
and I respond?
Dr. Mary Manz Simon is a popular conference speaker
and best-selling author. She also hosts a daily, nationally syndicated program,
Front Porch Parenting, which airs on 250 Christian radio stations. She was
quoted in McCalls magazine as one
of Americas top parenting pros.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC