You already know how pervasive social media has become. It’s become a primary tool for communication, relationships and community. So if your ministry wants to “meet people where they’re at,” you’re going to have to invest heavily in social media, right?
Not so fast.
Facebook isn’t a substitute for real community and it shouldn’t be treated that way.
You already knew that, but you might be surprised to learn that your students are feeling it, even if they’re not aware the feeling is there. In fact, this danah boyd study reveals that social media usage stems from a desire for real interaction.
Even students who are totally immersed in social media feel a longing for real community. That’s good news for your youth ministry. It means that if you’re doing things right, you’re already meeting a felt need.
Good for you. Here’s how you can maximize on what you’re already doing.
In the face of a burgeoning social media presence, “traditional” communication doesn’t feel lame. It feels more special.
Think about the last birthday you had. You probably received a hundred generic wall posts – so many that they blended together. You didn’t read them all, and probably most of them didn’t feel special.
But the birthday card you received? The phone call from an out-of-touch college buddy? A special lunch with your spouse? Those are the things that meant something. The same idea is true for teenagers.
Teenagers use social media enough to know how quick and easy a hasty message really is, and so they can easily recognize it for what it is. If you throw something together quickly, they’ll smell it out and the impact will be minimal, if it is anything at all.
Here’s the true story of how snail mail helped to build our youth program in less than a year.
In fall 2011, we started encouraging all of our small group leaders to start their own postcard ministry with their students. I printed a few dozen postcards every week, pre-postaged them, and made sure small group leaders had updated address lists.
It began small. We wanted to make sure each student received a hand-written note on his or her birthday. Then we started sending postcards anytime a student missed two sessions in a row. Then if the student had a prayer request or life event.
And finally, we made sure to send each student at least one postcard a month, even if we had to make up a reason to do it.
What happened? Attendance exploded. Students were more committed when they felt like we were more committed to them. Growth happened. Putting effort into demonstrating authentic care for other people paid off, just like Jesus said it would.
One day, during the course of leading a small group, a student absentmindedly dropped his Bible. When he did so, five or six postcards came spilling out of its pages.
He was sheepish at first, but admitted quietly that he’d saved every postcard any of our leaders had ever sent him. He was almost embarrassed for anyone to realize how much these gestures had meant to him.
Then another student opened her Bible and showed us that she’d stashed her postcards too. Then another. And another.
Within weeks, the other students in the group had picked up on the habit, keeping our hand-written prayers and carefully selected verses of encouragement nearby and close to their hearts.
Yes, our students spend most of their time on Facebook and Twitter. But we’re learning quickly that those aren’t the places where they derive most of their meaning.
Have you ever gotten caught up trying keep up with social media? What’s the better way that you’ve found to show students you really care?