From my earliest days of leading students, I was told if you weren’t on social platforms, you were not going to be reaching teenagers effectively.
In the 2010s we heard messaging like this at conferences, across youth ministry blogs, and at workshops over and over: If you’re serious about reaching GenZ then you need to be doing ________ on ___________.
Whatever was suggested next would inevitably include doing something more on a new social media platform that you were, in fact, not yet doing. These and similar messages were intended to sharpen you as a youth pastor but could leave you feeling discouraged and burdened at the thought of trying to do more.
At the height of the pandemic and without being able to meet in person, many of us felt the need to be doing loads more online to compensate. The messaging to student pastors was once again to post even more if you were going to capitalize on the moment.
Like most churches at the time, we listened to strategies and did our best to crank out devotionals and giveaways and all sorts of digital content across multiple platforms. But as the pressure for more content creation became a bigger dog to feed, I noticed something else—our ministry was not seeing any kingdom “wins” from all these new efforts. We were doing more ministry online than we ever even offered pre-pandemic—and I was exhausted from spending more of my time as a social media manager than the disciple-maker I was called by God to be (insert red flag emojis!).
I gathered our team and knew there needed to be a shift. We planned and prayed and went back to our mission and values. What emerged was surprising. We weren’t going to make more content, but less. We weren’t going to run ourselves tired trying to produce copious amounts of high-quality content which was pulling us away from doing meaningful life-on-life discipleship.
These small changes were easy to implement and continue to help us make use of social media while also guarding what we value most as the local body of Christ. Here are three shifts our church made that can help social media aid you, not inundate you in your ministry to teenagers:
Limit your platforms
Less is more. We went from six social platforms to two. We closed accounts on Twitter, Snapchat, and even our YouTube channel in favor of more direct and intentional content via limited channels. We created a private Facebook group to equip parents with resources and provide them specific member care related to raising teenagers. This small step is now a central hub for reaching our parents privately and separately from our more student-focused Instagram account.
Aim for connection, not entertainment
While Millennials use social media primarily for entertainment purposes, GenZ uses social media to foster their core relationships (which hopefully includes you and their other youth group friends). This means they are watching less long-form media content and more interested in what their friends are saying/posting/doing through their stories and posts.
Try using an Instagram Direct group. Because of Instagram’s algorithms, if you’re only posting on your traditional newsfeed, your students may or may not be seeing your content anyway. An Instagram Direct group guarantees they see what you are sharing and is a great way to get instant feedback and engagement among students. It also prompts student-to-student prayer requests and is a great way to rejoice together at a gospel conversation. When it comes to what you post, stick to simple, clear reminders of gospel truths in plain language. It’s the cup of cold water they will need when the world’s content ultimately dissatisfies.
Pass It On
We recently recruited some of our students to be entrusted with running our Instagram account. This involved carefully selecting 1-2 faithful and mature students who were healthy social media users as well as a “social-media covenant” that was signed by the student and their parents. This created an opportunity for leadership development while also increasing peer-to-peer engagement on our dedicated social platform.
If you’d like to know more about these shifts and others like them that we’ve found impactful for ministry, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.