Contributor – Bryant Johnson, Lead Consultant with Ministry Architects
In 2002 Verizon began a new ad campaign that would come with a catch phrase, which would be used for year’s to come. “Can you hear me now?” It was addressing the challenge that other cellular networks were having with dropped calls. Quite simply, there was a communication breakdown with the new and emerging technologies. Of course cell phones had been around for a few years, but were now beginning to get purchased for parents and for teens as well.
I believe the breakdown of communication came a few year’s earlier with the advent of AOL’s Instant Messenger. It was first released in 1997. This means that all of the youth that you are currently working with were born into a world of instant messaging. When AOL IM began, it wouldn’t take long before LOL (laughing out loud), BRB (be right back), and AFK (away from keyboard) would begin to replace words and full phrases. It was quicker and easier to type. It also meant that parents would often miss what kids were saying when the youth began using POS (parents over shoulder) and PRW (parents are watching) as a signal to their friends to be careful with their comments.
As text messaging began to emerge, using a few letters to represent full words and phrases would become quite common. My mom will often use this abbreviated communication style to text me. It’s likely yours is too. Things like lulz (sarcastically laughing out loud), SMH (shaking my head), BAE (before anyone else), IMHO (in my honest opinion), TBH (to be honest), and of course BTW (by the way) have become common and are being replaced by new forms of text speak almost daily.
What does that mean for the church and youth ministry? First, the church is not immune to changes of communication and it’s impact on the families and youth that you serve. In fact, this has been a problem for many, many years. In the book of James, we are told to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.” Look it up in your Bible app. Back then it was basically talking face to face, using parchment, or stone tablets. It also means that we have to think strategically about how and when we will communicate.
Now, some of your group may be on Facebook, others on Twitter or Instagram (owned by Facebook). Some may use Pinterest, Path, or Snapchat. Parents may use email while others may not. I had a parent recently say, “My email is a deluge of information that I simply can’t sift through.” Others will check the website for updates and others may expect a phone call. Some will send messages through their text message app on their phone, while others will use group messaging apps like Facebook Messenger or What’s App? (also owned by Facebook). There are so many forms of communication available it’s hard to know which to use when. And if you only communicate on the networks you are personally involved in, then you will certainly miss some people in your community. What’s the youth ministry to do?
It reinforces the need to have a strong communications plan within your group that will cover telling the good story of youth ministry in your church as well as sharing the important information about your schedule, events, retreats, and anything else you are trying to share. You don’t want to be shouting from the mountaintop into an empty valley. No matter how loud you yell, the message will not be conveyed. Rather, lets plan to speak in the way that others are listening.
Here are some are a few ways of communication to consider.
FACE TO FACE
What type of information will be shared face to face and how often? Will it include announcements at youth group, in front of the congregation, and one to one throughout Sunday morning? You might also consider having a table setup with all your flyers, brochures, and information about the events coming up through the school year.
In this world of messaging, don’t overlook the power of a phone call. If you are recruiting volunteers, responding to a question that was raised in an email, or even following up on a late payment, it’s often quicker and more effective to pick up the phone and dial a few numbers.
I would guess that texting is already a major part of your communications. I wonder, however, if there is a real plan for when that takes place and for what purpose. Do you send out texts for last minute reminders? What about for sharing what the scripture or topic will be this week? Does it just come from staff or volunteers as well? Will all kids receive a text or just those who sign up?
WEBSITE and EMAIL
These two often go hand in hand. But before you begin filling either with information, what type of information will you include? Will the website be static, with your regular program schedule for visitors to view? Will it be updated, like in a blog format, with all the upcoming information each week? Once you’ve decided how to use your website the best, then how will emails support that? Sometimes, even more importantly, we need to ask who will emails be sent to?
This can be difficult to figure out at times. You will need to know which networks your youth and parents are on and then decide which networks you will use in your communications. Once you’ve decided which social networks to establish a presence on, you’ve got present the content appropriately. A picture on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram don’t all reach the same audience or in the same way. It’s also important to decide if you will post as yourself or under a youth ministry account.
While, there are other forms to consider as well, these are the big ones. You may still send someone a piece of mail through the postal service, but it’s likely that’s no longer a major piece of your communications.
Once you’ve made some decisions about how you will communicate, there is one more step in the process. You will want to share your communications plan with your staff, volunteers, and most important youth and their families. The goal is to help them to understand how to find and receive the information that is most important to them.
Establishing an effective communications plan will help you to leave behind the days of asking “can you hear me now?”
Bryant Johnson began working in youth ministry in 1997 and is currently serving at Harrison United Methodist Church in Pineville, NC. He has been worship speaker for summer camps, taught seminars for youth workers, and written curriculum for the Florida United Methodist Camping programs.
Bryant graduated from Florida Southern College with a Bachelor of Science in Sociology.
In his free time Bryant enjoys all things technology, exercise, and good movies. He and his wife, Tonya, live in Charlotte, NC.