Tips and Tricks for the Unsavvy Social Media User
At my church, I am the youngest pastor on staff by 15 years. You may assume that I am the expert on all things millennial/Gen Z, including technology and social media. However, I am known as the “worst millennial ever.” I am terrible with technology, computers aren’t my thing, and I abhor social media. This is quite unfortunate considering I am shepherding teenagers who adore social media.
For several years, I didn’t prioritize social media. In fact, I largely ignored it. My own personal views got in the way of what I could have been doing, causing me to miss out on so many opportunities to use Social Media to advance the Kingdom of God. As with everything else, the pandemic changed everything. Here are a few tips and tricks that I have learned that might save you from going through the trouble that I went through.
Connecting Students to Your Ministry
One of the turning points for me in my view of social media came when a parent told me over the summer that their teenagers had really connected with our ministry through Instagram during the shutdown. Now, I always knew that teenagers connected with each other through social media, and I knew that it was a way for me to connect with them, but up until this point I had simply been using it as a virtual announcement platform.
This conversation showed me that it can be so much more! Through a simple like or comment from your ministry’s Instagram page, you can show that you care about what your student is doing, and you care about what they value. This can help to build massive amounts of relational equity
Another way that we can leverage our social media accounts in our relationship with our teenagers is to think deeply about what they post. Try not to simply like and scroll, like and scroll. Don’t just look at the picture or caption they posted but see it. Think about the picture they put out there. It is important to think about what your students are trying to communicate to the world, what they value, and what they have been up to in their life outside of church. We can use their own social media profiles to glean information that helps in our effort to build relationships.
Getting to Know Your Students
For instance, I have a student who posts pictures and videos of the various reptiles he owns. I could like it, showing him that I recognize his post, and scroll on by. Or maybe, next time I see him, I can ask about his frog or his lizard. I can show interest in his world. The great thing about social media is that we can gain insight into the private worlds of teenagers, a world that we would never see in the two hours a week that we have with them. So, take advantage of social media. Ask about the vacations that you saw pictures from, ask about a photo of a pet or a family member that you noticed they posted. This shows teenagers that you care about them personally, not just spiritually.
During the shutdown, I learned that social media could play a vital role in my discipleship plan. While it is good to post pictures and videos that are fun and engaging, there is so much more that we can do in regard to discipleship. All of us have so many things that we want our students to know and understand about the Triune God, church, relationships, decision making skills, etc. We simply don’t have time in our weekly programs to talk about all of these topics.
What if we leveraged social media as another avenue for discipleship? This fall, I started filming a short, one-minute video that I would push out on Wednesdays during the week. During this time, I would take a topic like value or friendship, boil it down to its essence, and quickly share a few words of Biblical wisdom. These posts had some of the most views that I have ever had. So, think about the important topics that you would like to discuss but don’t fit into your current discipleship plan and how you can disciple your teenagers through social media.
Four Tips to Engaging Social Media Well
Finally, here are a few super-practical tips that I had to learn. Again, you might already know these and think duh, but maybe these will help you out a little bit:
First, Facebook is for parents, Instagram and Snapchat are for teenagers. Far too many ministries post information and videos on Facebook expecting their teenagers to see it, but they never will because teenagers simply aren’t on Facebook. Leverage Facebook to communicate and connect with parents and use Instagram and Snapchat to communicate with teenagers.
Second, post graphics that have your teenagers in them. Teenagers likely scroll past stock images because they think that it is just an ad. If they see a picture of themselves or their friends, they are more likely to stop and read what the post says. Remember to have a signed photo release form before you post the picture of any student.
Third, use a social media management software. For a long time, I would post something on Facebook and then go over and post on Instagram. I have 6 different profiles that I manage, so this became tedious and frustrating. Thankfully, there are software programs out there to solve these problems. Two of the best programs I have used are Buffer and Hootsuite. These will save you a lot of time and heartache.
Fourth, protect yourself from sin. We all can guess why some college guys would create an app where you can send a picture and have it deleted after a few moments. If you run a Snapchat account for your ministry, please don’t put yourself in a situation where your morals could be compromised and character be called into question. I am still trying to figure out the best way to handle a Snapchat account. One solution that I have come up with is that I have my wife look at pictures before I open them. Maybe there are a few better options for this, but I’m learning as I go.
I hope that what I have learned these past few months and years can get you jump started to effectively use social media in youth ministry. I know that there are various opinions on social media, and I personally see more negative consequences than positive consequences that we must deal with in the long run, but the truth is that social media is not all bad. Simply put, it is a communication medium. I’m sure that Paul would have sent a few goofy Snapchats to Timothy or maybe Jesus would have posted some pics on Instagram from that crazy storm they had on the Sea of Galilee (okay, maybe not, just indulge me). Since this is the world we live in, let’s take advantage of the discipleship opportunities that social media gives us. If we go in with the attitude of using it to share the good news that Jesus Christ has purchased our redemption from sin by his death on the cross, we can’t lose.
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