…Or Is It?
By Doug Ranck • Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara, California
“Nobody talks face-to-face anymore. It’s easier just to comment on Instagram.”
“I don’t do social media. It takes too much time and it is relationally worthless.”
“Give me the good ole’ phone any day. And, by the way, I still have a
Full disclosure: I am a 60-year-old youth pastor who started in ministry before there were answering machines. I actually hand wrote letters to kids or their parents. I used a Dict-a-Phone (yeah, go “Google” it) for my secretary to type the letters. I called a student’s house and hoped somebody would eventually answer. I wasn’t afraid to use tin cans with strings — okay, not really.
Now some of my peers are those who sip coffee and complain about the destructive forces of social media and smart phones. They choose to see all that is wrong in the Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc. world. If one wants to find the downside of these mediums, it can readily be found and one would expect my generation to be looking for it.
Interestingly enough I am connecting with younger youth leaders who also subscribe to the same philosophy. They call out the evils of the social media world and are proud of their “permanent fast” from it.
Much of what is wrong with the social media neighborhood I can appreciate. There are some broken pieces, limitations, and challenges. I freely acknowledge them. Youth and adults get obsessed with their smartphones buzzing with notifications about media updates. Trying to lock eyes with an entire group for an engaging discussion is almost always impacted by someone checking a device. Many are infected by the dreaded condition of FOMO (fear of missing out).
However, I declare my love for social media and all the advantages it gives me in pastoring – yes I said, “pastoring” – youth and their families. Taking one step further, it seems those who completely opt out of these formats are actually isolating themselves and cutting off additional connections they could be having.
Here are a few advantages I have identified and a “game plan” toward developing your social media ministry.
Entering the social media world strategically gives me a little peek into the life of a teenager and even their parents. There are times I find out more things than I want to know, and there are times I see great things I never would have known. It’s only a peek, but a helpful one.
We gain a few more access points of communication for encouragement and affirmation. I still write post cards, I text, I email, I even call – but social media gives me another way to connect and more talking points for deeper conversation.
Youth and parents can easily communicate with me. A good shepherd knows his or her flock. I have worked hard to learn the best connecting points for youth and their parents. The spectrum of these points is vast – everything from voice-to-voice calls to Facebook messaging to Twitter DM’ing to… you get it.
Youth and parents can know more about my life. While I post a lot of ministry stuff, I also occasionally add appropriate posts about my personal life so youth and parents can take a peek into my life, without overly self-promoting (that’s a whole other discussion!). People like to know we are human too.
Choose a few strategic media platforms. According to studies, youth seem to be leaving Facebook. So what? I still have some on there and their parents/grandparents are all over it. I’m not leaving. I also like Twitter and Instagram. Some leaders are on Snapchat or Vine.
Affirm birthdays, accomplishments, etc. When you see something good, acknowledge it both on media and in person. Youth and parents love it that you are taking note.
Don’t be “one of those people.” You know what I’m talking about: the ones who over-post, constantly invite you to something, want to engage you in games, or write the “I-want-to-see-who-reading-this-post” post. Ugh!
Post above reproach. You have opinions about hot topics or politics. Keep them to conversations with real people where you can see each other and understand. Your rants and radical political posts may get a lot of comments but they are also alienating those to whom God has called you to care. Be a listener first and one who loves all of God’s people, unconditionally.
Balance media and face. I ran into one lady, even older than me, who said her high school reunion had the highest attendance ever. Why? Many had connected on social media. Your presence on the media makes the face-to-face connections even more meaningful.