Using Social Media to Spark Spiritual Growth

News Flash: Teenagers use social media. A lot. 96% of Canadians ages 15-24 are using social media. Youth workers know that the overuse of social media is a problem among students. As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of the negative affects of addiction to social media. Thankfully, there are some great resources available to help assess and address our compulsion need to monitor our feed.

However, while youth workers should continue doing our best to pry our students attention away from their snap storylet’s not miss out on the opportunity to leverage social media for good.

The reality is, our students are engaging with social media on a daily basis, and that means our youth ministries have an opportunity to speak into their lives.

Consider this – most youth ministries have the attention of our students for 2-3 hours each week. In that window of time we are hoping to communicate a message that will impact the lives of our students throughout the rest of their week.

What if we saw social media as a platform to reinforce those messages?

This is an opportunity to encourage students to live differently around their friends while they are actually in their school. We can nudge them to spend some time in scripture as they get their day started. We can remind them that God is always with them as they go about their everyday lives.

The bottom line is simple: youth workers have an opportunity to leverage social media to spark spiritual growth in students. Here are two ways to make that happen:

1 – Reinforce the messages from your gatherings   Your gatherings are memorable. Your messages are impactful. Social media gives you an opportunity to echo the big ideas and help them stick in the hearts and minds of your students.

2 – Prompt spiritual habits   If your youth ministry has identified some basic discipleship habits for your students, use social media as a way to prompt your students to live those out. In our youth ministry, we’ve identified 4 areas of discipleship that we want our students to grow in: #LoveGod #KnowGod #FollowGod #LoveOthers. We talk about these discipleship areas in our gatherings, but we really want our students to grow in these areas throughout the week. We reinforce this idea with the tagline: #LakeviewOnTheGo. We want our students to understand that these are important areas of our spiritual journey that happen between our gatherings.

If you haven’t identified discipleship habits in your youth ministry…maybe now is a good time to try.

Like it or love it…social media is major part of the world our students are immersed in. Let’s embrace the opportunity to leverage social media for something good, because there is a great opportunity to fuel the spiritual growth of our students. Go claim it!

PS: Using an app like Word Swag makes it easy to create beautiful images that will grab your students’ attention and prompt them to embody those spiritual habits. For other tips on productivity apps, make sure to check out this post from Jeremy MacDonald.

Five Emails You’re Forgetting to Send

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Your schedule is packed. Your inbox is full. You can’t keep up with the Facebook messages. The busyness has shrouded your view and you are still met with the complaints:

“It would have been nice to know about this sooner.”
“What are the details about that retreat?”
“Didn’t you know that the seniors’ button club was using the auditorium this week?”

You can spend time blaming others for their lack of inquisitiveness or their inability to find the right answers… or you can take responsibility and send five regular emails this week to prove you are the premier communicator in your church.

Pre-Program Weekly Leader Email
This email is where you cast vision for what is coming up in your program. A weekly email keeps leaders in the loop and empowers them to prepare for the program. This should include: small group questions for their discussion, a program order for your night including game details and/or song choices, and anythings specific you want them promoting to students.

Post-Program Weekly Leader Email
This email is where you thank leaders and invite their feedback. You can use a Google Form to get the same feedback each week. You’ll also want to highlight and encourage any leaders that you saw doing great things at the program.

Weekly Parent Email
This email is similar to your pre-program leader email, except you’ll want to put the focus on what content you are covering at your program and how parents can take it further on the drive home or later that week. Also be sure to include any upcoming events that are out of the ordinary so that parents can plan their family calendars accordingly.

Bi-Monthly Boss Email
You should never be assuming that your boss knows what’s going on in your ministry. Take time consistently to update him/her with highlights, statistics, budget overviews, and ministry prayer requests/needs. The more you communicate the more your boss can be in your corner and support you.

Sowing Seeds Email
Keep yourself from getting desperate with the number of leaders you have by starting the recruiting process nice and early. Have a hit list and start to nudge people 6-9 months before you hope to onboard them. The advance planning will help you get the high capacity leaders that are drawn to organized ministries.

PRO TIP: Batch write these emails all at once and then schedule them to go out at the appropriate times throughout the week (use a program like Boomerang, Right Inbox, or Streak).

How Do We Help Students Make Friends?

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In youth ministry, I’ve realized that the real test of our ministry is when students graduate – Do they continue to attend church? Do they have a desire to pursue community? Are they starting or continuing to serve in the church at large? Answers to these questions can sometimes be sobering and serve as a reality check for our youth ministry.

As I’ve asked these questions and watched students graduate over the years there is something simple but significant that I’ve discovered. One of the contributing characteristics of seeing students continue in their Christian journey post-high school, is whether or not they have significant relationships with others their own age within the church. Therefore, in an age that is so tech dependent and with many students unaware of how to make friends, we must as youth workers help them learn to make friends.

HOW? – Below are some helpful and practical ways that you can help students make friends.

For All Who Work With Students

  • Coach Students. One thing I’ve discovered is that students need coaching in how to interact with people face-to-face in an intentional way. Take some time to coach this simple outline to a group or encourage those who seem to be isolated yet wanting to connect.
    • Ask them if there’s one person in the youth group that they think would be someone they might want to get to know.
    • Help them Set a Goal to talk to that person by next week, by either introducing themselves or just chatting in hang out time.
    • Prep them that it might be awkward but it is worth It!
      • Be simplistic. Sometimes it takes teaching them how to introduce themselves and then practicing it! ‘Hey, I’ve seen you here the past number of weeks/months, but don’t know if I’ve ever met you. My name is ____________.
    • Teach them how to make ‘small talk’ by asking NAKED questions:
      • Name
      • Age
      • Kin / Family – How many siblings do you have, who do you live with? Etc.
      • Education – What school do you go to, what grade are you in?
      • Dreams – What are your plans after school? What are your hobbies? Etc.

 

  • Follow Up. Follow up the next week to see if they did it and how it went.
    • Encourage them to ask that person to go for coffee or lunch in the next month – Remind students that everyone is scared of being rejected and everyone wants to be noticed; therefore, asking someone to hang out might feel awkward but will be affirming to that individual.

Point Leaders

Structure your weekly program around activities that help foster relationships such as:

  • Games that get students interacting and breaking down walls (ex: ‘Speed Friending’ – like speed dating but with the purpose of helping students get to know each other)
  • Small Group Time (Teach students how to share their stories and then give them opportunities to share)
  • Create opportunities for students to go deeper (Ex: Prayer meetings)
  • If you have students coming from multiple schools – break the larger group into school groups so that they know who’s at their school as well.
  • Retreats – extended time away together always helps students break down barriers and helps them connect.

Volunteer Youth Leaders

Be an example of how to make friends, give students opportunities and encourage them to continue!

  • When a new student comes to the group, grab a committed student to come with you and welcome them.
  • When meeting with a student – invite two at a time to help them connect as well as you connecting with them.
  • In Small Groups, encourage students to exchange numbers to stay in touch throughout the week!

Ultimately, Christ changes people’s hearts and promises to finish His work in our students, but we also know that we need community to grow strong in the faith. May each of us use the influence we have to help students make friends so they become a strong force to be reckoned with!

Amy Miller | Youth Pastor | Living Stones Church | Red Deer, AB

I Am The Lord’s Servant

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This Christmas I’m reading through Timothy Keller’s book “Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind The Birth Of Christ”. It’s been good for my soul…challenging. I just finished reading the chapter on Mary, and I am left reflecting on the invasive nature of Christ. I suspect Mary had a plan for her life. She was getting married to Joseph, who apparently was a pretty good guy.  And then, out of the blue, Christ steps in and absolutely takes over. He changes everything…responsibilities, reputation, relationships. As my boys would say, he wrecks her. It’s almost as if he treats her life like it is not her own.

I’ve been spending the last four months thinking through the journey of discipleship…in my own life, in the life of my boys and in the lives of the students I interact with. I’m wondering if I’ve done enough to help my students see that Christ has come to wreck them, to change their responsibilities, to possibly hurt their reputations, to rearrange relationships. I’m wondering if my models of discipleship are pointing them to the reality that their lives are not their own.  It is true, Christ invites us to abundant life, but it is abundant life on His terms. Like Mary, the only right response to the coming of Christ is “I am the Lord’s servant.”

So here are my questions as I move from Christmas into the new year.

  1. Are there areas of my life that I need to release my grip on…areas I need to be willing to lose in my life in order to gain my life?
  2. How am I leading my leaders? Am I helping them see that leading in our ministry is about allowing Christ to lead their lives?
  3. How are we discipling our students? Do they understand that because Christ came and gave His life for them, the only right response is to joyfully give their lives to Him? Are we having conversations that wrestle with what that looks like on a daily basis?

It is interesting, Christ came to bring peace, but the way to peace is often through conflict…the conflict of the soul. Christ demands all of us, however giving up “all of us” does not come easy.  When you look at Mary’s life, it didn’t seem to come easy for her, so we shouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t come easy for us. However, chances are it won’t come at all, until we get to the place where we can say with Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant”. That would be a great way to start the new year.

7 Productivity Apps for Youth Workers

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I’m a tools junkie. I love when new apps come available that might help me do my job more efficiently. I’ve compiled my favourites–take a look and see if you might benefit from these tools too! If you have any other suggestions, drop them in the comments.

Wunderlist: There’s an enormous amount of options when it comes to task or project management. Wunderlist is a great place to start, as it gives you scalable options (attaching files, sharing lists) while keeping things simple.

How I Use It: I have shared lists with anyone I’m doing a one-on-one with. Both of us can add items to the agenda. I also keep a grocery list shared with my wife.

Right InboxHave you ever emailed someone and then forgot to follow up with them when they didn’t respond? Have you used your inbox as a to-do list to the point that it has gotten overwhelming? Have you ever thought of emailing someone, but it’s at a weird hour of the day and you’d rather send the email at a different time? You need Right Inbox (Boomerang or Gmelius are similar tools).

How I Use It: If I’m sending an email that I expect a response on, I add a reminder that will return the email to me if I don’t get a response (the time allotted for a response is customizeable). No more trying to remember who has gotten back to me already. I’ll also schedule regular emails that I want to send (program night details, followup for immediately after the retreat, etc.). This way I can plan to have a note go out at precisely the right time.

RemindRemind is the definitive texting platform that you need to be on. It’s free, it has an app, it has options for leaders, parents, and students. Our needs have expanded beyond Youth Ministry and so we’re now using textinchurch.com, but Remind is definitely the place to start.

How I Use It: Set up your ministry as a class and put opt-in instructions on social media, on screens during your program, and in emails to parents through the week. As people sign up you’ll have the ability to text them directly with info, last minute changes, and promotion.

You Need A BudgetAfter our honeymoon, my wife and I read a Dave Ramsey book and decided to start budgeting. A few years later we can’t imagine where we’d be without this critical tool keeping our sanity around finances. At the same time, I’ve now realized that I likely have mistakenly donated an enormous amount of money to my previous church because I had no idea where my money was going and if I didn’t have the receipt at the end of the month I wouldn’t claim the expense.

How I Use It: We use ynab.com, however since Dave Ramsey released his free budgeting software, if I were to start over today I’d probably check out everydollar.com. Here’s the key–every transaction must be accounted for and put into a budget category. This way you can guarantee that all those Starbucks visits are accounted for come expense report time.

Evernote/Scannable: Knowing that you took someone out to coffee for ministry purposes every other day last month doesn’t change the fact that you are staring into the eyes of an angry accountant, empty handed for the fourth month in a row. Be their hero, be responsible, and do yourself a favor by downloading Evernote and Scannable.

How I Use It: If it’s a ministry receipt, as soon as it’s in my hands I scan it into Scannable. I now have a copy to print at the end of the month.

Spotify: I loved TobyMac’s latest release, but after playing it on repeat for a few months, I realized it was making our program feel a little stale. That’s when I realized that instead of spending money on new music every month, I really needed to just bite the bullet and switch over to a streaming service.

How I Use It: I follow a couple playlists that have active users updating the music. No more overly repeated music.

Overcast: Podcasts are a great way to add value to mundane tasks that don’t take a lot of brain power (driving solo, yard work, exercise, etc). Overcast is the best podcast player for three simple reasons:

  1. Voice Boost — “Boost and normalize volume so every show is loud, clear, and at the same volume.”
  2. Smart Speed — Magically shortens natural silences in shows and ends up saving you hours over the long haul.
  3. Adjustable Speed — Increasing the speed of a show can help you cruise through lots of good content in a short period of time.

How I Use It: I subscribe to my favorite podcasts (The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, unSeminary, Freakonomics Radio, Revisionist History), increase the speed until it’s at the fastest speed I can handle, and play them during my 40 minute commute.

Caring for Rockstars (aka Volunteers)

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Caring for Rockstars (aka Volunteers)

Volunteers are rockstars. As point youth workers, we couldn’t do what we do without them. They are the ones who journey alongside students and do life with them, encourage them, challenge them, and live out what it looks like to love and follow Jesus.

Caring for volunteers is one of the most important things we can do for the health of our ministries… to reach students with the love of Jesus and to see lives transformed.

Far too often, we get “too busy” keeping up with event details, prepping to teach, and hanging out with kids ourselves, that we “run out of time” to pour into, care for and equip our volunteers effectively. Our ministries suffer as a result.

While it may seem counter-intuitive as a youth pastor to spend more hours with our adult volunteers than with our youth – it is actually the best investment we can make as we steward the time and resources God has given us as we lead! This is more and more crucial as our ministries grow.

So how can we care for our amazing volunteers?!

Here are 6 simple, meaningful ways.

1. Get to know them. (Actually!) Learn as much as you can about your volunteers (Yes, beyond discovering just enough information to let you know they’d be a great fit for that role you’ve been hoping to fill.)

  • Take them for coffee
  • Listen to their story
  • Ask about their family, friends, work, and life outside of their job and church involvement (if you’re like me, you’ll likely want to write these things down afterwards so you can be sure to remember them!)
  • Discover why they’re involved in youth ministry
  • Ask what makes them tick?
    • What are their gifts?
    • Passions?
    • Skills?
    • Hopes for the future?

2. Ask for feedback. Don’t just take them for coffee once to convince them to volunteer and then forget about them until they stop showing up. Connecting regularly should be an ongoing part of your care for volunteers. Asking for (and listening to) their feedback helps you learn, and communicates how much you value them and their voice in your ministry.

Questions to ask:

  • What do you think is working well?
  • Where do you see opportunities to improve our ministry?
  • Is there anything you’re unclear about?
  • How have you seen God at work?

3. Set them up to win. Paint a vision of what you’re working towards together as a team and how you plan to get there. Even better, invite them into the process! Make sure everyone is clear about both the why and how. Be clear with the expectations of their volunteer role:

  • Attendance at weekly program, events and retreats?
  • Connections with youth outside of program nights?
  • Any prep that’s expected prior to youth nights, etc.?
  • Lifestyle agreement/commitment?

4. Encourage. Encourage. Encourage! I would argue that this might be the single most important way to practically care for and retain volunteers. Just like any of us, our volunteers want to know that they’re known, valued, and that they’re doing a good job. So…

  • Encourage often.
    • Write a card. Yes, pick up a pen, find a card, write nice things in it, and send it to your volunteers. Trust me, it goes a long way!
    • Send a text. “Hey – saw you chatting with Johnny’s new friend tonight – thanks for introducing him to the rest of the group!” “Great job leading the game tonight – so appreciate you Zach!” “Abbie, thanks for sharing your story tonight, it set everyone up for such amazing conversations in small groups!”
    • Pick up the phone. On your way home from youth, call a volunteer or two just to thank them and tell them you appreciate them.
  • Encourage genuinely and specifically. Avoid offering encouragement that is insincere or that may come across as too generic. Look for opportunities where you can authentically affirm your volunteers for who they are and how you see God at work in and through them.

5. Care consistently and practically. Care enough to ask how they’re doing, and stop long enough to actually listen. Care enough to follow up. How did that big work meeting went that they told you about at coffee last week? I’m praying for your midterms. Text to see how they’re doing if they were sick and missed youth last night.

Ask how they’re doing spiritually. Are they involved in a small group? How’s that going? Where are they being fed spiritually? What is God teaching them these days? How can you support them in their own faith and walk with God?

6. Pray for them. Ask your leaders how you can be praying for them. Pray for them in person. (Even if you’re going out for coffee and it feels a bit strange, take the opportunity at the end of your time together to pray for them about the things they’ve shared.) Pray together with your volunteers for your students, families and ministry. Commit to praying for one or two of your leaders specifically each week. Text them to let them know you’re praying for them.

Caring well for our volunteers doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated, but it needs to be intentional.

What can you do THIS week to care for the rockstar volunteers who serve and love the students in your ministry?

Sarah Stanley | Pastor of NextGen Mobilization, Trinity Church | Kelowna, BC