We are continuing our social media month here at YMC. It seems to be a hot topic currently, especially with the recent hack of the app SnapChat. Our youth more than ever are confronted with technology and social media. If we as youth ministers aren’t ready to discuss all the aspects of these things we are doing a disservice to them. Next week we are tackling how to practice safe usage, but today we are discussing……..

“How does your church utilize social media?”

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Christopher Gourley is the Youth Minister at North Riverside Baptist Church in Newport News, VA. He enjoys cooking, playing guitar and watching Texas Longhorns football (which is not always easy). He spends his time with his favorite person, Jessica Gourley who is gracious enough to call him her husband. Together they have two cats, one blog, and no time.

I remember growing up in church and always hearing that if you wanted to know anything that was going on in the church, you either had to wait for the monthly newsletter to go out, or you had to call the reliable church secretary, which usually led to finding out a lot more information than you had originally planned for.  But as time moved on, life became more and more fast paced and sometimes printed information and even word of mouth have become too slow for our “need to know” lives.  And with those changes, some churches’ presence in their community dwindled in the struggle to keep up.

Luckily for us, there are super smart people out there who have developed all of the pieces involved in social media.  All of a sudden, information is shared a little quicker, to a wider group of people at a consistent pace.  Why would churches NOT use a tool like this to reach out to a world that needs the message that we as churches have access to?  Social media has the ability to put the presence of our churches into the daily lives of not only our own congregations, but also people we never thought we would reach.

Over the last few years, I have become infatuated by the presence of churches on social media and how they are able to use it for Kingdom purposes.  I have attempted to take some of these and apply them to our context and surroundings here in Newport News.

You can find North Riverside Baptist on Facebook: where we have a set schedule of post topics so that we are present every weekday.  We remind people of upcoming weekly events, when they are and where to meet (tagging restaurants and businesses that are hosting us).  We invite people to bigger church events (i.e. Trunk-or-Treat, or Vacation Bible School) and encourage them to invite or “share” with their friends.  We have reminders of what was talked about in Sunday’s worship so it can remain fresh in our minds and also have posts looking ahead to upcoming worship experiences.  All are on a set schedule, so I know that the first thing on my list when I get to the office Monday morning is to schedule the weeks Facebook posts in advance.  Of course if something comes up, a powerful/important world event, an urgent need for prayer, some bit of information that needs to reach the most people in the shortest amount of time, that schedule is adjusted appropriately and with little effort.

You can also find us on Twitter:  this is our newer attempt at reaching out to others in small bits of information.  We share meaningful quotes; we link to articles that encourage our congregation and others to think; we enlighten followers to things going on in the world that they might not know at the time; and also link to online sermons so they can be heard by those who missed the service or those who heard that the sermon got good after they fell asleep.  We are also experimenting with using Twitter to reach Christopher Newport University, located within walking distance from our building, with weekly invites to worship and Sunday morning breakfast as well as events that they may enjoy.

While I would never discount the importance of face to face relations, I feel as if Social Media is quickly becoming one of the biggest tools in ministry that churches are not using to its full potential.  We at North Riverside are no different, but we’re excited to see where it will take our ministry as we continue to be a daily presence in our community.

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Andrew Shaffer is the Minister to Youth and Their Families at First Baptist Dalton, GA. He is a graduate of Mississippi State, Samford and Truett Seminary.  He has worked in youth ministry one way or another since 2000, and has been bitten by an otter.

Back in the dark ages, social media consisted of phone trees and weekly mailers, usually augmented by the Wednesday night announcement/prayer sheet distributed at dinner.  Somewhere along the way these went the way of the pony express and churches discovered the internet.  This revelation prompted every church in creation to create a website ranging from useless to unusable, functioning simply as online phonebook entries and outdated calendars.  In recent years an increasing number of churches have updated to more user-friendly websites, but they still haven’t become communication hubs or social media outlets, especially for youth.

Social media outlets sprout constantly, and as adults we manage to be excluded from some secret code to inform us which is the next thing.  Thus the challenge for youth ministry on the interwebs:  do we throw our hands up and rely on the pony express, or jump head-long into the future and dump our time into whatever will be popular for the next six months?  Well, as with most youth ministry issues, I say it’s somewhere in between.

I still haven’t really figured out what “a vine” is or how it differs from YouTube.  I don’t understand how to effectively communicate with Instagram and Snapchat was created for US Senators.  However, I have recognized that in the ever-changing social media scene youth are constantly looking for what’s next.  To that I say, “I’ll get there when I get there.”  This may sound archaic and stodgy, but I’ve realized over the past couple of years, with few exceptions, youth don’t really want their ministers everywhere they are all of the time.

The Facebook exodus has begun amongst teens because parents (and grandparents) have invaded.  There are a few stragglers, but at least in our group most of the youth aren’t on Facebook anymore.  We know this, and we also know we can still mass communicate with parents via Facebook groups, a youth page, and creating events.  Many of our youth are on Twitter, allowing for useful burst fire updates and links in 140 characters, but there is seldom any two-way communication or confirmation of actual communication.  We have a church E-newsletter and more recently a weekly youth E-news containing interactive information and substantial content, which we send out for everyone to delete once a week.  I don’t get it, but most youth don’t really check their email, so again this doesn’t really reach the youth themselves.  Incorporating updates and communication within and between all three, announcements in church have created constant access to information and ministers, but still caters mostly to adults.  If we’re talking mass communication, nothing beats texting when it comes to both youth and parents.

At this point, it wondering how and if any of this is effective would be pertinent, but I’ve discovered something interesting about our church:  we talk to each other!  Yes, the barrage from social media outlets makes information readily available, but actually being social – showing up at events and schools, going to dinner and coffee – is infinitely more effective for real communication.  Sure, it’s crazy helpful to be able to say, “Oh yeah, that’s on the website.” or, “Check the newsletter for details.”  However nothing beats actual face time to find out what’s going on in their lives, just being a presence, and reminding someone about Bible study Wednesday night.  Sure, there are times I have to text a youth or photobomb a snapchat to let them know I’m right beside them, but that just means I get to say I photobombed a snapchat.  Of course the occasional real life postcard or letter is a must, because it keeps people on their toes. And really, who doesn’t love getting actual mail?