Smart Phones in Youth Ministry – A distraction, or a tool for encountering God?
B. J. Barlow
Anyone who has been the leader of a youth bible study for any period of time can testify to the frustration of cell phone interruptions. The struggle is real. Meanwhile, media devices are a significant part of the lives of our youth and they are not going anywhere in the foreseeable future. So, like the good Disciple that I am, I have been working to find a way to bring wholeness to the fragmented world of technology in youth ministry. Why wouldn’t we engage the youth’s preferred method of communication as tools for spiritual formation and development? Here are a few safe ideas to engage technology and media that seem a little less like a distraction and more like helpful spiritual practices.
Hashtags for Jesus – Create a hashtag that is relevant to a discussion your youth have had at church. Challenge the youth to Tweet using the hashtag anytime something happens throughout the week that reminds them of youth group. Be sure to lead by example (and tag your youth in your Tweets). If you follow up on the posts at your next meeting, it may help raise awareness of God’s work in our lives throughout the week. Meanwhile, you can begin identifying helpful information about the things your youth spend time thinking about during the week.
Create a Facebook Event – There is a lot you can do with Facebook events that engage your youth in spiritual practices. For example, challenge the youth to invite as many of their friends to an event as they can (done right from their phones so you could even give time during youth group for this). Offer a prize for the person who invites the most people to the event (you can actually see who invites people by visiting the “GUESTS” page). Additionally, you can see who responds “Maybe”, which then allows for the opportunity to follow up with potential visitors. I have found that sometimes a friend responds “Maybe” because they simply don’t have a ride. So, I arrange for a ride and more youth come. Overall this engages the youth in outreach and teaches them how to use technology in practical outreach ministry.
Pintrest Prayers – Did you know that you can create private Pintrest boards that restrict access to a certain group of Pintrest users? Yeah, well… imagine making a Pintrest Prayers board where youth can post pictures right from their phone of things over which they need prayer. Your youth group can routinely visit the board to pray for one another and you can include it in your prayer practices as well. It is pretty simple to do and maintains appropriate privacy. Set clear boundaries of what can be posted and this can become a wonderful way to nurture the practice of prayer in your youth group. Sometimes seeing the smiling face of a family member, or seeing a shot of the hospital helps us to pray in a more meaningful way for all involved in the prayer request.
Video and Visuals – Media devices in the hands of our youth group means that we have a camera crew in every smart phone. Encourage the youth to take short video clips of special events they experience in the life of your congregation over the course of several months and before you know it, you have enough footage to use as promotional videos, sermon aids, or features for your youth page. Again, they can download the videos to a private YouTube channel for you to sift through later. A little editing in a movie-maker program that is already on most computers, and something that took a few seconds from each youth member can turn into a really special presentation that represents your youth ministry.
There are endless ways to engage technology in our youth ministries. With a little creativity and direction on the youth leader’s part, the conversations, photos, and video clips youth take on their phones can become a tool for encountering God in really great ways.
What other ideas do you have that teach youth to use technology and media in their spiritual practices?
B. J. Barlow is Regional Staff for Youth Ministry in the Pacific Southwest Region of the Christian Church (DOC). He currently resides in San Gabriel, CA and attends Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena (MDiv. ’15). Originally from Richmond, Virginia, B. J. has served in various denominations and areas of ministry in three states. His ministry has emphasized creative worship design and engaging youth in practical Christian leadership. His passions for ministry include multicultural worship, social reconciliation, and creative youth mentorship. He was recently named Regional Scholar by the Disciples Seminary Foundation and is working to empower ethnic and cultural diversity in youth ministry in the Pacific Southwest.