It’s October! Its hard to believe we have almost made it through the first year of Youth Ministry Conversations. Next year is going to be even more exciting. The plans for what is coming will be revealed sometime in November, but trust me this is going to be a site you want to keep your eye on with all we have in the pipeline.
Thank you for checking back regularly for the blog and seeing what issues we tackle each week. This month we are talking about social media, and today’s question is…..
“How do you utilize social media for work?”
Josh Plant is the youth pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor for undergrad and then got his M. Div. at Truett Seminary. He is married to Camille and enjoys the Texas Longhorns, Netflix, and Chick-fil-a. He isn’t cool enough to have any pets…yet.
Social media…the end or beginning of our way of life, depending on who you ask. While many a clergy person has lamented the onset of the social media age, I am here to tell you to have no fear! This is the age of social media and it is good! We can use it in all kinds of ways when approaching our work in ministry (not limited to student ministry, I might add).
How so, you say? I’m glad you asked:
1. Announcements – If you have a youth group Instagram (or whatever else the majority of your kids are on), it has never been so easy to disseminate information. Get the word out about bible study, worship, events, trips, deadlines, and anything else you can think of on a regular basis. Not once a week. Every day. But not too much every day. I read recently that the average smart phone user checks their phones at least 150 times every day. If that’s true, how often do you think students check their phones? So announce stuff via social media; it’s easy, it’s free, and it’s relevant.
2. Keeping up with students – Want to know what is going on with kids in your group? Follow them on social media and you’ll find out. I can’t tell you how many times I have found out about somebody being on homecoming court, breaking up with their significant other, or dealing with a tough part of life just because I followed them on Twitter. Students, like their young adult counterparts, are putting their lives online all the time. We would be foolish not to use that to our advantage. Now, to be clear, I’m not saying go stalk your students and invade privacy or anything like that. If you can keep up with them, though, you will be more informed and better able to do life with them.
3. Understanding the latest trends – I know you probably hate to hear this, but you’re getting old. You don’t listen to the coolest music or have your shoe game on point. If you didn’t even understand the last part of that sentence, you are exactly who I’m talking about. The truth is we are all getting older and moving away from youth culture via our age and stations in life. One way to stay in contact with youth culture is to hang out with them. For those of us with families and other responsibilities, that can be difficult to do a lot of. How about hanging out through social media? You see what they are talking about, what they are wearing, what bothers them, etc. In short, it’s easier to keep up with the latest trends in youth culture and adjust your ministry accordingly. You may have just found out that one of the latest trends is for all companies, institutions, and organizations to have a social media presence. Some people may hate that, but it is what it is. Students expect it and if we don’t give them a social media presence we look out of touch.
4. Fun – Hey, who doesn’t like looking at all the pictures you see online? Students love looking at pictures from events and trips, so let them do that easily (and free) by posting them to social media! On top of that, you can do things like brag on students who are playing in (a) band when you’re at their concert, post videos of students goofing off at Sonic after church, or publicly congratulate the girl speaking at her FCA for the first time. It reminds students that there are people in your group doing fun things that they, too, can be a part of.
5. Presence – It’s just another way you/your youth group/your church can be visible in the world of a student. Our culture is obsessed with compartmentalizing everything, especially something as personal as spirituality. In my experience, this leads to a lot of hypocrisy and loneliness. Don’t let students feel isolated. Have an online/social media presence that reminds them you are with them for every facet of life, not just three hours every week.
This certainly is not an exhaustive list and I am sure you might be able to come up with some other ways to utilize social media in our work. When you do, will you let me know? I want to copy those ideas!
Jen Van Camp became the youth pastor of Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco in 2006 and is still loving it! She grew up in Lexington, KY and went to McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. She loves pop culture, her Kentucky Wildcats, and being the best aunt in the world to her niece and two nephews.
I consider social media an important part of interacting with the students and parents in my ministry. I know that some people have separate Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. accounts for personal and professional use and I totally get that, but I’ve always just had one account that I use for both personal and professional purposes. I’ve discovered that Facebook messages are a more effective method of communicating details of an event than emails, especially with high school students. I can post a message and they can reply to everyone and discuss something, as opposed to me sending out an email and not even being sure if they read it. I feel like it makes me a more informed youth minister and helps me to be up to date on what’s going on in their lives, and also to hold them accountable about what they post. I also think it’s important for them to see what goes on in my life and it honestly helps hold me accountable about the kinds of things I post. They know they can always chat with me via social media or texting and I want to be accessible. Again, I think you have to be careful about the kinds of things you post (political soapboxes, questionable jokes/content, etc.), but maybe that’s a good thing! I think knowing what’s going on with them is vital, not only for the purpose of giving out information, but to help them understand how to use social media responsibly. I feel like I get a window into their world and they get a view into mine, and that’s a good thing.