What’s New in Social Media…and How it’s Useful for Churches

by / 0 Comments / 213 View / April 15, 2014

Facebook is dead.” –  one of my middle school youth about a month ago

In the last year I’ve witnessed a mass exodus of middle school and high school kids from the now 10-year-old dinosaur of social media that is Facebook, and her statement seemed to give a pretty blunt synopsis of the current view of Facebook by my youth. It seems the numbers across the United States are reflecting the same trend, and Rochester, Minn., isn’t anomalous. The group istrategylabs completed a statistical report on Facebook users both in 2011 and January of 2014 and found among U.S. users, the total number of users age 13-17 fell over 25% in the three year period! Young adult users age 18-24 dropped 7.5%. When I asked my youth why they no longer use Facebook or even want to start a Facebook account, their answer is: “It is for adults,” or, “That is what all the adults and grown-ups use.” That’s right, Facebook has successfully grown out of its adolescence and is now an un-cool adult (I might add, an adult with children that are cool: Instagram and possibly Paper). However, while Facebook is on the decline for these youth, the use of Messenger (Facebook’s chat specific app) has actually increased from 2011.

So how is this useful to churches? It used to be that Facebook was an extremely effective communication tool. In 2011, 58 out of my 60 high school youth had an active Facebook account, so I could advertise, promote and catch nearly all of my youth through a single media. Check in with your youth to see if they have followed this national trend, and respond in the way you use Facebook. It may be that you are reaching an increasingly smaller amount of youth through Facebook. The second component to this equally interesting: 31% of Facebook users are age 35-54 – the parents of your youth, and 71% are 25 or older. That’s right, nearly three-quarters of Facebook users are adults over 25. You may very likely be better off using Facebook to advertise, promote and communicate to the parents of your youth than the youth themselves. Currently, if I scroll through my news feed there will be significantly more posts from the parents of my youth than youth themselves. Adjust the way in which you use Facebook.

“I need to get a Twitter account.” – one of my high school youth.

Twitter is actually accomplishing the reverse of Facebook in terms of average age. I have more high school and middle school youth opening Twitter accounts than ever before. The best reason I’ve heard so far: “I like using Twitter because adults don’t know how to.”

So how is this useful to churches? Keep an eye on how many of your kids are using Twitter and if it is worthy of being adopted into use for your church. There is a lot more geographic disparity in Twitter use than other social media. The East and West Coasts have a higher percentage of Twitter users than the Central and Midwest (where I’m at).

“You use Snapchat?!?!” 

One of my youth was somehow surprised I had a Snapchat account. I think she thought Snapchat was impervious to the realm of adult infiltration.  I’m going to assume a baseline understanding of where Snapchat originated from and the inherent pitfalls/dangers of the app that touts picture messages that “disappear” after 10 seconds. The most useful aspect of Snapchat for churches is the “story” concept that was added about 4 months ago. Instead of a Snapchat lasting for only up to 10 seconds with your audience, it can be viewed by all your contacts for a 24 hour period of time. Now you can make a Snapchat story and send it to all your youth about a specific event, invitation, information, etc. that can be viewed and is available to be reviewed for 24 hours. This is a great addition to Snapchat that can be useful to churches. This story feature is also a huge step in liability limitation for church workers. Instead of a regular Snapchat sent to a youth that “disappears” in 10 seconds, it is a publicly visible version that has much less potential to be misconstrued, misunderstood (as it can be watched again) or misinterpreted. Please tread wisely in using Snapchat for ministry purposes. This may include having specific ministry policies established. My favorite use of Snapchat at church? A few of my youth and I have taken to sending Snaps to youth who don’t show up (for whatever reason) on a given Sunday for church and Bible study along the lines of “Where were you?” or more tongue and cheek, “Sleeping late today?” with a picture of their friends looking expectantly at them. It gives them an adequate dose of this is a priority that you should be here on Sunday as well as your family of faith wants you here!

Instagram – the popular child of Facebook. I believe this has attracted the highest percentage of my middle school youth and high school underclassmen from the Facebook exodus. Instagram has a very low average age of users, so my youth feel relatively comfortable that it hasn’t been taken over by the adult population. So how is it useful to churches? Instagram is phenomenally useful, and probably not for any reason you would guess. It has nothing new to offer in terms of any social media platform. It has a news feed, comments, messages, blah, blah, blah, but the thing Instagram holds over the others is how nicely it plays with other social media. In easy-to-access settings, you can have Instagram send your post not only to its own news feed, but to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Tumblr and Flickr. One of the things I hate most about social media is trying to get the same information up on all platforms. Take a picture, write a caption and send. You now have the same message on all the above media. That is the single, most useful aspect of Instagram.

Vine (owned by Twitter) has risen sharply in popularity since its release a year ago. It is still growing and gathering more users as it tries to battle Instagram. Time will tell how many youth will flock to this platform and express their video-making creativity. I see the biggest hold-back in Vine as the length of time needed to make Vines. Where Instagram is shoot a picture and send (hence Insta-), making a 6.5 second video usually takes a lot more than 6.5 seconds. This slows the rate of content on Vine altogether. Ultimately I don’t see Vine making the big-time in terms of social media. I think it is nearing its peak as a novelty akin to a gif creator.

Tumblr (bought by Yahoo last May) has also seen solid growth recently. This is another platform to watch for the time being and see if it may become useful for your church and ministry.

How are these useful at church? The most obvious and first-looked-to application across all of these social media platforms is advertising events and activities, and I agree it is very worthwhile to do that. I want to add a few other ways of how it may be useful to use these various social media:

Encourage youth to invite others and use these platforms as outreach. Tweets can be retweeted, Facebook posts shared on walls, Snapchat stories showed to friends, Instagrams liked and Vines re-Vined. Give your youth explicit permission to share these. Encourage them to invite others to the activity you are promoting. Have your youth use these social media tools to share what they are doing at church, how their service project is making an impact and how their faith is integrated into their lives. The witness they give via their social media is tremendous.

Use social media for teaching youth to stay in God’s Word. It may be posting a verse of the day in your Twitter feed/Facebook status or an Instagram, including a verse in your Snapchat story, or posting an Instagram with a verse and visual representation.

All of these platforms can be used as teaching tools. Have your confirmation class split in groups to make a Snapchat story or Vine that explains each petition of the Lord’s Prayer. If you want a real public statement of faith for confirmation, have them share it via their preferred social media. Create a Facebook profile for Martin Luther, or have them send tweets as if they were Martin Luther at a certain time during the Reformation, “@Tetzel – Take your indulgences and go home! #indulgencesdontwork #gracethroughfaith #Jesussaves”

Teach and equip our parents. As parents have become the largest population of Facebook users, we can use this platform to help teach and equip our parents. Maybe in your news feed you see article after article about Christian parenting and raising our youth, but I can guarantee you have parents in your congregation who will only be receiving good lessons on Christian parenting from you, your pastor or you congregation. Take the opportunity to share valuable material with your youth’s parents and use Facebook as a teaching tool.

Encourage. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). The social media that your youth and families use can be a powerful way to connect with them. Take every occasion to support and encourage your youth, parents and families on social media. Remind them that you are thinking of them, that you care for them, that you pray for them and that Jesus loves them. We all see the junk that goes on in the lives of our kids as they subtly or not-so-subtly reveal it online, so we share Christ’s love at all times and in all occasions.

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