It’s 2018, and social media is here to stay. Students are using it, and if we want to reach them so should we! Whether or not we personally like social media or not, we can’t afford to ignore it.
Unfortunately, too many youth workers are either not using social media or aren’t using it well. In order to reach students far from God, we have to be where they’re at. Almost all students are on social media in one form or another, which means we have to be there too. Not only that, but we also need to do it well.
So you’re ready to step into social media and use it to impact your community, but maybe you don’t know how. While I don’t have a magic trick to fix all of your social media woes overnight, I can share 3 keys to using it well and having a better online reach tomorrow.
3 Keys to Reaching Students with Social Media
1) People Over Products
Most youth ministries I see on social media break this rule. Post after post they promote events and programs. If you look at their feeds, you will notice they’re all about products.
You see, products don’t have to be something you sell for money, just something you sell. Posting about an event is selling a product. Posting about your weekly program is a product. The problem is products won’t sell students on your ministry.
Products won’t get students to church. People will. The world is all about selling products, but the Church has to be about something better. The Church is made up of the people of God, and it’s people that will make the difference.
Think about it. How many people have you met who came to church because of of polished Instagram post? How many students have given their lives to Christ and seen their lives changed because of a promotional youth group tweet? My guess is the answer is a big goose egg.
Now, it’s important to note that products aren’t inherently bad. There’s nothing wrong with promoting an event. The key is to do it strategically.
According to Michael Hyatt, on social media it’s more important to give than receive. If products are withdrawals and encouragement and helpful content are deposits, Hyatt teaches we should make 10 deposits for every withdrawal. What about your ministry’s social media accounts? Is your timeline full of deposits or withdrawals?
The most engaging posts for our student ministry have one thing in common: they feature people. Why, because people are real and people matter.
A post about camp that looks incredible might garner 50 likes and 0 comments. A post about a student being baptized will receive hundreds of likes and a variety comments. Posts with and about people make your ministry feel real.
Students want relationships that are real. Showing real people like them who have experienced life change makes for great social media! Want to win at social media with students? Post about people over products.
2) Consistent Over Flashy
When it comes to social media, consistency is huge! It’s important to decide your youth ministry’s digital identity and stick to it. A consistent approach will go a lot farther than a couple of great posts a month.
As a matter of fact, if your ministry runs social media with a flash in the pan mentality, students are likely to miss your best posts when you make them! Flashy posts can be great, but they are not nearly as impactful as a consistent social media presence.
If you’re new to ministry through social media, the best thing to do is make a few decisions up front. Maybe you’ve been using social media in your ministry for a while, but it’s time for a reboot. Either way, you’ll be better when you decide on a social media identity and develop a plan to stay consistent with it.
One important decision to make is about how many times your ministry will post per week. Part of this depends on your ministry culture, and part of it depends on the social media platform you’re using. For instance, twitter will allow for multiple posts per day while too many on Instagram will win you an unfollow.
For us, we have decided on 3-5 quality posts a week. It’s not necessarily better than posting more or less, but it is our digital identity. Not only that, but we work hard to stay consistent at it. Less than three posts in a week and students will notice. It works the same way if we post more often.
Quality matters in social media, but consistency is absolutely vital. What’s your youth ministry’s social media identity? Do students know what to consistently expect from you week to week?
3) Relevant Over Right
I’m a firm believer that the Church should never sacrifice truth for relevancy. However, I’m also a believer that social media is not the place to preach truth and morality. Our goal is to get student’s involved in the conversation about God, not to yell at them one sided from behind the veil of social media.
The wrong message on social media is the 2018 version of “Turn or Burn” on a church sign. It doesn’t help, and it’s not good ministry. We want to reach students for Christ, not run them away before they ever step foot in a church!
I’m a truth guy. I love sharing God’s Word with people, even the tough stuff. However, on social media my goal is to to encourage more than correct. If we want to reach students, we might want to encourage them before we correct them.
In addition to encouragement, I want to use social media in ministry to engage students in relevant conversations about God. When the world seems to be going crazy, social media is a great place to start the conversation. It’s a great way to let students know God has something to say about things like racism and sexuality. Social media is a great place to start the conversation, but I prefer to leave the controversial stuff for face to face time.
When it comes to social media in ministry, I think we should always choose being relevant over being right. Share truth about what's relevant to students struggles, not truth for the sake of truth. If we use social media in a relevant way, we are guaranteed to have more crucial conversations down the road.
Let me leave you with this philosophical quandary. If you share incredible truth on social media but no one follows you to see it, did you really make and impact? With social media, relevance is key.
How is your youth ministry using social media? Where are you winning? Where can you get better?