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When Social Media Met Student Ministry

Recently I was having coffee with a friend. It was windy, spring day and we chose to sit outside. This was both a great and terrible decision because while the weather was beautiful, we both have hardcore problems staying focussed on anything. Throw a little caffeine into the picture and you’ve got a recipe for a two hour conversation where a lot of words are used and nothing is actually said. 

This coffee meeting was different. I distinctly remember sitting outside, being distracted by the dance of the trees in the wind off in the distance and my friend saying to me, “Whatever you attract students to your church with will be the thing that keeps them there.” If I attract with substance, substantive youth ministry will be what keeps them coming back. If I attract them with flash, I’ll only be able to keep them as long as I can produce a more flashier version of youth group each week. 

This sentiment has been around for ages, and as we turn our attention to social media, something that is inherently “flash-oriented,” I believe it is time for a fresh application of this timeless truth. 

I’m going to make one assumption upon which the rest of this blog post stands (if you don’t buy this, go read this article that hopes to convince you of the merits of this statement). Here we go…

Your student ministry’s social media is first and foremost the online, digital representation of who you are as a student ministry. 

Before it is ever a way to announce events, show off pictures of the latest game you played, promote fundraisers or highlight your youth group nights, it is the online, digital extension of who you are as a student ministry. What you put onto your different social media platforms comes primarily out of who you are as a student ministry, not what you do. 

Okay, like I said, if you don’t buy that, go read this article; and if you don’t buy that article, I would love to talk to you about it in the comments section!

Now, if social media flows out of who you are as a student ministry, not what you do, let’s look at the intersection of social media and the DNA of your student ministry. Here are a few things to consider as you take an intentional look at your student ministry’s social media practices.

1. Is the DNA of my student ministry intentionally known?

Are you taking a piecemeal approach to student ministry? Maybe you’re a volunteer and don’t feel like you have the time to prayerfully consider questions about the DNA of your student ministry. Maybe it’s all you can do to prepare a game and lesson for your students each week. Let me encourage you that nothing can be more important than writing out the DNA or the substance of your student ministry and making it intentionally known to everyone involved. It is the foundation upon which everything else is built, and beginning to intentionally think and talk about the substance of your student ministry will give purpose behind everything that you do in your student ministry, including social media. 

2. Does the style I produce on social media reinforce the DNA of my youth ministry?

Social media is inherently oriented towards style more than substance. Every major social network orients it’s algorithm around images and videos, which tests your social media posts against one question, “Was this post appealing enough to get people to stop, look at it and engage?” Getting around this fact is impractical, however, while Facebook or Instagram are asking their questions about the flashy appeal of your posts, you can ask your own question of them, “Does the style of this image reinforce or work against the DNA of my student ministry?”

For instance, if you have decided that one of the pillars of your student ministry is caring for the marginalized in your local community, then a certain percentage of your posts (which need a certain amount of “flash” to be seen by the people you want to reach) should be announcing times when the youth group will serve in the community, and maybe link up helpful articles that bring the needs of the marginalized in your community into focus. 

So unless amazing games of dodgeball are included in the DNA of your student ministry, consider diverting a few of those enjoyable posts to reinforce the things that are most important to who you are as a student ministry. 

3. Do my social media practices set a good example for healthy social media habits?

We’ve all heard the complaints of adults about kids being on their iPhones when they around real, live people. Perhaps we have been those adults. While I have my own thoughts on this particular complaint (using a blog to rant is usually a bad idea, so I’ll spare you), I think there is something to be said for having a healthy social media habit. Using social media to announce, inform and reach people with and for your student ministry is a great idea. I would, however, encourage you to ask yourself the integrity question at least once a month, 

“If my students followed my social media practices in their personal lives, would they be moving towards or away from wholeness and health?” 

Only you can answer this question, but the question does assume one thing…you must have intentionally thought through your own social media practices! So for those of you who do not have a “best practices” for social media, here are mine: 

  • Use the social networking platforms with which your students engage most often (Facebook for parents, Instagram and Snapchat for students). 
  • Plan out your posts ahead of time in accordance with your student ministry calendar and sprinkle in posts around these events that reinforce the DNA of you student ministry. 
  • Online engagement is less important than real-life relationships…so get off the phone and work at being fully present when you’re with your students, family or really anyone who has a pulse and is near you.
  • If you are using social media at an event: 
    • try to involve as many different students as possible. 
    • be certain that you give everyone the opportunity to tell you if they don’t want their picture to be used in the student ministry social media posts.
  • Decide on a cut off time when you will no longer be available via social media (It’s 11pm-8am for me)…and keep in mind that nothing good happens after midnight. 
  • Never delete conversations you have with students on social media. 
  • Major on the majors, minor on the minors…if someone (usually a parent) gets upset about something you post on the internet, be quick to apologize and do what you can to make it right. Social media is a tool, nothing more. 

This has been my experience of the intersection of social media and youth ministry. On the one hand we have youth ministry, that, if it is done well, is filled with substance that brings students and families into a direct encounter with the person and work of Jesus Christ. On the other hand you have social media that has been successfully woven into the fabric of our society. They do not have to be opposed, and I believe if the rich substance of the one enters into the style of the other, beautiful things can happen. 

I’d love to know what you think! Leave a comment below and lets talk…