It is no secret, that in youth ministry (as in most ministry) connection, relationship, and communication are key elements to a good, healthy ministry. When we are connected to one another, we can more closely know one another and understand one another. There are many wonderful books written about this such as Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by Andrew Root or The Godbearing Life by Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster.
Relationship is more than just seeing youth at church or youth group. It is about connecting with them and trying to keep up with their busy, packed, and full lives. Many youth ministers try to make it to all the events, plays, games, etc. in which their youth are participating. Others hope that connecting with them when they see them at church will be enough. However, today, we are also negotiating staying in touch online via social media. We all know that teens are online and that they are way more tech savvy than most of us who are their mentors and leaders. So how do we stay current?
We could run in circles trying to find the latest, hippest, most relevant form of communication with our teens. Studies have been done saying that teens use Twitter more than Facebook, or that Instagram is the new Twitter, or that Vine will replace it all. Yet, those of us in the field know that ALL of that depends on what OUR teens are using and where they are or aren’t on social media.
Social media is as local as the hometown coffee shop you meet in during the week. You can’t walk into any coffee shop and expect to find the youth there hanging out. You have to know which coffee shop, what hours, and what the protocol for coming might be. Social media is like any other relational thing that we do with our youth. We have to know where, when, and how they engage in being together.
Think of it this way…each local youth ministry has its own way of doing things and social media is no different. Some youth programs have been built around meeting in a coffee shop or having ice cream and talking about the sermon. Each local group of teens has its place for checking in online. It is up to us to know what those online platforms are and then not overuse them.
Check in with your youth to find out where they are online and involve them in figuring out how your youth group can connect there with you and with one another. There is no magic formula that says that they will all be on Twitter or Instagram. As shown in this article in the New York Times, teens can be fickle and change and go back and forth on their social media platforms, just like they can change which coffee shop or store they like to frequent. As their youth ministers, it is up to us to discover where they are and how we can engage them there.
This is not only important for letting our youth know what is happening and finding out more about their lives, it is also important for their health. In this article, from Youth Ministry Media, we are reminded that 10% (at least) of teens say that social media makes them more depressed, over half have been bullied online, and almost ¾ of their parents are tuned in to what they are doing online. We can help by also being tuned in, letting the teens know we are around when they are being bullied or when they are feeling low.
Connection goes beyond the face-to-face and yet it is all about the face-to-face whether that is in person or online. Know where your teens are, engage with them, and know that they need you to be there whether they know it or not. Being there will allow them to reach out to you, and you can reach out to them if you see them hurting or in trouble or as they celebrate something good in their lives.
This blog originally appeared on the Faith Formation Learning Exchange on November 4, 2013.