The parachurch ministry, Young Life, has a saying in regards to contact work. They say that in order to reach teens you need to “go where kids are”.
This may be hard for us to comprehend because many of us didn’t have smartphones or smart devices growing up. Back in the day, we built friendships and community the old fashion way, by actually engaging with people face to face or over the home phone. Remember calling that girl or boy you liked and their parents answered the phone? So awkward.
Now, teens are using their smart devices to build community online. They are texting, tweeting, making videos then sharing them with the world. And the world responds. And they are using social media as a primary tool to build community with each other. Think about it. Whether it is Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube or even Facebook or Twitter, students are constantly on their phone and they are using these social media platforms to communicate with each other and build community.
But there are other ways that people are building community online other than the normal social media channels.
A lot of teens love online gaming on Xbox and PS4. Although those are very popular, there are games that average, everyday people can play on their phones. In fact, student ministers today are playing games with students all the time on their phones with games that can be easily played by everyone. Although this may seem “juvenile” to some, the average gamer is engrossed with them. And it’s a great opportunity for students and minister to connect when they play together.
If you’re not gaming online, consider connecting with teens this way. Accounts are easy to set up and they’re not too difficult to mange. If you’re not savvy, consider bringing in an adult in your church who can connect with teens this way. Be sure to help that adult see the bigger picture of connecting teens back into the ministry that is hosted at your church.
Online church is pretty much the rage with churches now. And with most churches, every service that is broadcast there is a Chat Room. In the room people can engage each other and talk and there is a Chat Host or two that helps drive conversation. The one thing I started noticing is that the regular chatters would come on and say hello and people were responding as if they had just wanted into the room. Even though many of the people have never seen each other in this chat room they are building friendships.
You don’t have to begin by buying loads of tech tools for this one. Consider simply hosting a livestream of your youth worship services or Bible studies every week. Teens will know to look for your Facebook or Instagram stream if you do it at the same time each week.
Online Life Group
As much as student ministers strive to have life groups with students, finding a perfect time with meet for everyone might be downright impossible with the busy-ness of teenagers. That is why Online Life Groups are great ways to build community. This is a group in which we meet weekly with people sharing their thoughts and insights as we go through life together.
Online life groups can be as tech heavy as you’d like. In reality, you can start simple by having a weekly text-chat at the same day and time each week. See where the conversation goes, be prepared to infuse scripture and leading questions. If the group takes off, begin thinking of more ways you can engage life groups in other formats.
These are just a few of a variety of different ways people are connecting and building community today.
In today’s online and digital world, social media is a powerful tool…an ever changing tool. But if we want to reach the next generation of people, we have to be Leaders in Social Media. Specifically, we need to use social media to communicate and build community.
What do you think? How have you used online tools and social media to build community with students? Share your thoughts.