Engaging with Youth on Social Media

Last night, I had an interesting exchange about the Bible and homosexuality with a group of high schoolers that I’ve never met, and probably won’t meet. I embedded the post above, but you can see the whole conversation that took place below:

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First of all, as a youth pastor active on social media, this is interesting stuff to me. New Trier High School is the public school that most of the kids in our youth ministry attend. This public Facebook page, New Trier Confessions, is obviously an unofficial page and is said to be a place where people can post “confessions” and the admins of the page say the post everything (as long as it isn’t offensive, though, one could argue that the admin’s definitions of offensive might be different than mine). On the Google form where you can submit your confession, they say: “Confessions are 100% anonymous. If you need help or just want to pour heart out here’s your place to be. It could be about anything or it could be about nothing. Just make sure your post isn’t offensive!”

So, I liked the page a week ago or so, and have just been skimming things as they show up in my News Feed. I saw this one tonight, and felt that perhaps it was an opportunity for whoever wrote this confession to see that there was at least one person who had a different view on the Bible and homosexuality than they had heard.

There are a number of things that I think are interesting about this interaction I had last night:

  • This was a quick and easy way to interact with a group of students I wouldn’t have been able to interact with otherwise.
  • The question from the admin of “Pastor, how did you find out about this page?” is hilarious to me. How did I find your public Facebook page? There is still a sense, by some young people, that stuff they post online isn’t public, or at least, people won’t be able to find it. But they can. And they will.
  • There are a lot of youth who don’t trust the Bible, think it’s outdated, irrelevant and not something to be taken seriously (as seen by some of the comments).
  • I didn’t have the comments with the most number of “likes” but my comments were seen and liked by some youth who now know that there are some pastors who think it’s okay to be gay, and who don’t think that being gay means you’re going to hell.

I’ll admit, I did feel a bit like I was “creeping” on their territory or page, and it’s not a page that I’ll interact with a lot, but I still think it was a pretty easy way for me to have a voice in that conversation, and who knows what effect a few small comments might have on some students who know they’re gay but are hearing very negative things from the religious communities in their life.

Pastoral Transitions in the Age of Social Media, Part 5: Top 10 Things to Do When Starting at a New Church

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Below is a list of the top 10 things I think you should do when starting at a new church, in terms of social media. This assumes that you’re doing all the normal things that you probably want to be doing when starting a new ministry job, getting to know your colleagues and staff, spending lots of face time with parishioners, listening to their stories, learning the ropes, working on gaining and accruing social capital that you can cash in later.

Again, these are just a few of the things that came to mind:

1. Talk to your colleagues and staff about social media. No matter what size of church you’re at, I think it’s important to find out if there is a social media policy in place, and see what your colleague’s thoughts are about social media. This is especially helpful and important if you’re someone like me – who is very transparent online – and that might be a new thing for your colleagues. This was something that I definitely had a lot of conversations about during my interview process with Winnetka, and I would suggest you do the same thing if you’re looking for a new job.

2. Determine a social media strategy. This one will take a bit more time, but plan to get together with the staff at your church and talk about having a social media strategy. Who’s going to be responsible for what? What voice do you want to use for official church posts? What is your goal with using social media for ministry? This will take some time to work through, but is really important in the long run. In case you ever want to run a social media training day for your staff, I happen to know someone who has experience leading social media boot camps: check him out here. If you want a really good example of some social media guidelines for a church, check out this post here.

3. Make sure you’re not the only one doing social media. If you’re at a small church, or a church where no one else seems interested in doing social media, you might actually be the only one engaging online. But try and change that. When I was at Asbury, we had 6 people who had the Manager Admin Role of our Facebook page. So we had multiple people who were posting updates, content, links, videos, questions and it created a robust and interactive page. If you’re the only one, you’ll get busy, you’ll forget, or it will only have your voice, and not a greater representation of the breadth of your congregation. Enlist a volunteer, get a volunteer, or connect with a woman in her mid-5os (this is the fastest growing demographic of Facebook users) and have them help with the page. This is also extremely helpful when you leave a congregation. Our church page has 2 administrators right now, but I’m really the only one who actively posts on the page. So, after I leave, I’m not sure what the status of the Facebook page will be.

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Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions

Soul-PancakeIf you watch The Office, then you know Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute. But a year or so ago, I began to hear about this spirituality project that Rainn Wilson started up, called “SoulPancake.” And then a few months ago, someone on Facebook said that if you didn’t have his book, SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions, and you were a youth or college pastor…well, you needed to get it and you probably weren’t doing your job right (I added that part).

Seriously though – this is a great book of discussion-starters, ideas to try out with your youth or college groups. I just got it a couple months ago, and we’ve already used it a couple times at our College Coffee Hour at Starbucks after church, and I can see it working out really well for youth group, and for a night of Theology Pub as well, where you might just pass the book around, have someone pick out a question and then have discussions on multiple topics for one night.

It’s only $12 on Amazon, so if you’re looking for a great resource for your ministry, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake book.

He also has a really great YouTube channel that’s filled with videos you could also use as discussion starters and some really fun “Metaphysical Milkshake” interviews with other celebrities that are worth checking out.