If you are a youth worker, paid or volunteer, you know all of the liabilities that youth ministry faces. From simply driving a student home to planning a hiking trip, you have to constantly think about the safety of the students as well as the safety of those serving the students, including yourself. Using Facebook for ministry is not excluded from this safe environment. Here are just a couple of ideas for keeping all protected:

  • Protect Yourself. Protect Them.
    There is so many news stories of religious clergy overstepping boundaries and getting in trouble, even when they were not doing anything wrong. Do not put yourself or your students in a compromising situation where you could be accused of something. Just like with any form of communicating, watch your words. Unlike any other form of communicating, Facebook is open for the world to see, including over-protective parents or a board member just looking for a reason to fire you.
  • Have Permission Before Posting Pictures
    There could be many reasons a student does not want their picture on Facebook. Their parents are divorced and the parent with custody does not want their ex to see anything. You went swimming and the student is not comfortable having their picture online. The guy just broke up with his girlfriend in the picture and is still upset. Whatever the reason, you should be sensitive to the students and families feelings.
  • Be A Role Model
    Another pitfall is that students can become “addicted” to streams of information on Facebook, which can foster a “gossip mentality,” said Buckley. “When students gather together, it is not uncommon to hear the phrase, ‘Did you see so-and-so’s status? Did you see the pics he posted?’ Many times, these statements turn into speculation and gossip, which can be hurtful.”

Jeremy Smith is a 26-year old youth pastor at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master”s of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years and absolutely loves sharing the life of Jesus with teens. Check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.

Let me just say this right off the bat, if you are looking for quick fixes, you will be sorely disappointed. I feel that a change of intention is needed here and band-aids will not solve the problem.

The topic of how and why we can use social media in youth ministry has been talked about lot by many other people smarter than myself: Adam McClane, Daniel Darnell from Collide Magazine, and Brian Kirk from rethinkingyouthministry.com. I agree with many things that they say, but as I talk with youth workers, am finding issue with several different things with social media.

This idea started with several key conversations I have had in the past year. The first one was talking with a youth worker who wanted to keep his personal life separate from his ministry, honorable and smart. His solution to this idea was that he needed to have three Facebook usernames and would spend up to 4 hours total a day checking everything because it was so disjointed. Another conversation not long after that, a solo youth pastor without volunteers told me how they would spend one day a week for the sole purpose of their ministry’s online presence. Finally, I constantly see staff and admin trying to redesign, rework, and reinvent a lot of stuff with their blogs, Twitter, Flickr, and everything else.

So what am I getting at? Look at the heart of what you are doing:

  • Face Time With Students Is More Important
    Time with students is vital. I find that I barely have enough interaction for them, my volunteers, the parents, my boss, and God. Am I being a good steward of my time? Unless you are LifeChurch.tv, there should be no reason other than to spend 20 seconds sending a tweet or 5 minutes making a Facebook event.
  • Online Promotions Just Do Not Work
    If you have a whole marketing department with your church, AWESOME. Then online advertising will work. There is a marketing practice that states you need to have audiences hear or see your ad five times for them to remember your product, seven times to be interested in it, and nine times before you start to really influence them.
  • Work To Your Strengths
    If you have volunteers, student leaders, or really involved parents that understand even just a little about social media, you have the opportunity to build some really amazing relationships with them and multiply the ministry by COMPLETELY handing off the project to them! As a college volunteer, myself and another student were in charge of the web design, maintenance, and social media presence for our youth group. This empowered us as volunteers to feel like we were investing in the ministry and in the kingdom and I feel forever changed because of it. And if you do not have those people in your ministry, you have a bigger need than updating another status.
  • Listen To God
    I love doing web designs because God has wired me to be equal parts relational with others and functional. So when I find my “introvertedness” kicking in, I know I can go write some programming code, play around in Photoshop, or simply be alone with God and my heart, mind, and soul become more still. But if all these social networking tools start to become a distraction with your relationship with God or others, it is time to put it away. Unplug and go out into the real world.

Jeremy Smith is a 26 year old youth pastor at the Air Force Academy chapel, working for Club Beyond, and attending Denver Seminary for his Master”s of Arts in Counseling Ministries. He has been involved in Youth for Christ for eight years and absolutely loves sharing the life of Jesus with teens. Check out his blog at Seventy8Productions.



It’s been an incredible year here on More Than Dodgeball (MTDB as the locals call it) – thanks so much for joining with me in the journey of youth ministry. I’ve had so much fun and appreciated all of your comments, emails, Tweets, Likes and guest posts. Close to half a million pages viewed during the course of the year with the blog now totaling 5,012 posts with 13,158 comments. Holy smokes!

Here’s a selection of the top 50 youth ministry posts of the year as told by Google Analytics:

And the most visited static page was My Recommended Youth Ministry Resources page – if you’re looking for some good stuff to use in your ministry setting in 2010 there is a good place to start.

Thanks for stopping by, subscribing and spreading the word in 2010. Here’s to 2011!

JG

The gang gathers round the table full of Christmas cheer. The team has big changes to talk about. They also talk about facebook and students owning their faith.

JG



In order to build a successful youth group, you need to develop a trusting community among your students. It might seem difficult to get to a point where everyone feels comfortable enough to share what’s going on in their lives, but if you set the proper foundation students will begin to open up as soon as they feel they are in a safe and confidential environment. This is the backbone to getting any student to grow in their faith. So how do I build up trust in a group in order to get them to grow?

Students need to feel that they’re in a safe environment
In our youth group, one of the steps we take to keep confidentiality is have everyone sign a covenant. They agree that whatever happens in the group, stays in the group. That way there’s never a worry that someone will hear an issue with their friend, take it to school, and spread it all around campus. If there were ever an issue with that agreement, it would need to be addressed with the group right away to keep things at a confidential level and to show the group how serious we are about confidentiality. Following these measures goes great lengths to helping students feel comfortable about talking openly with their peers.

As leaders, we need to be available for problem solving
Just because your youth group ends at 8:30, doesn’t mean you’re off the clock. If you want your students to be open about things in their lives, you need to make yourself available. Make it known that you’re available all the time, but set some ground rules. For instance, I don’t want them to call me at two in the morning to ask, “What times does group meet tomorrow?” Give students ways to access you. Give them your cell phone number, tell them to friend you on Facebook, and be ready to talk when the phone rings. This is not an interruption to your life; it’s a responsibility you’ve signed up for as a youth leader. One of the things we do with our small group students is to sit down and have a one-on-one dinner with them (or two on one if you have a co-leader). When you do a one-on-one with a student they tend to open up more than they do in a group. When you’re first building a relationship with your students, this is an excellent way to get to know them, and for them to get to know you.

When one person opens up, the rest will follow
Usually all it takes is one person to get real for the rest of the group to open up. When the group sees that someone is letting their guard down, usually the walls fall down around the others, and they begin to peel back the layers of their lives. Oftentimes, leaders sharing their life experiences is enough to get the ball rolling. If students aren’t naturally opening up, you can start the chain by getting real about your life. All it takes is one person to take the first step, and the rest will follow.

Be proactive
If you see a potential problem forming, don’t wait for it to get out of hand. Be proactive in addressing the situation so that it doesn’t get to a point of no return. It is much easier to approach a problem before it starts than after it has time to take its toll. It shows students that you care about them and are active in their lives if you know what is going on with them. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation – sometimes students are just too embarrassed to start it themselves.

Something that might seem trivial or minor to you can be a huge deal to them. As a student leader, being available to use your life knowledge and your experiences to help a student is one of the best ways to show them you care. Relating your experience and your solutions is a way that you can pass on knowledge and growth from generation to generation.

Matt Reynolds and Steven Orel are volunteer youth workers at Saddleback Church. They approach youth ministry from an older (Matt is 50+) and younger (Steven is maybe 20) perspectives. Look for lots more from them in the future – for now you can follow them on Twitter, too!

Are you coming to the Simply Youth Ministry Conference this March? It is going to be so much fun – come join us. If you are and want to help spread the word, consider adding a Twibbon to your Twitter profile pic. On Facebook, too!

JG



Here’s a cool deal running this week on Doug Fields’ and I new book, 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders. It is already in it’s second printing! Now to be honest, the publisher had small dreams for this book, so it isn’t quite as glorious as it sounds. Ha!

So to celebrate, here’s an exclusive for readers of the More Than Dodgeball blog (share it, Twitter it, whatever is fine). You can get 10% off each copy when you add 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders to your cart over at Simply Youth Ministry. Just use the promo Code mtdb when you check out!

I hope it is a tool that benefits you and your volunteers!

JG

This weekend for week 2 of the Happily Ever After series message we had a separate outline for guys and girls.

I Twittered about it last week and it got a good reaction so thought I would post a little more about it here. Basically the top half of the student outline was the same (a review and a lesson on Samson from Judges 16) , but the application of the message was divided into two parts. The pink outlines, given to all of the girls who came to the service, focused on what girls should “beware of in a guy. The blue outlines, given to all of the guys as they came in, had fill-ins that helped guys set a goal for what to become. Our Shake-It greeting ministry kept things straight all weekend, and students seemed genuinely interested in seeing things from both perspectives. A simple idea that helped break the typical and gave us to focus more directly on the students themselves. Fun!

JG