In our world today, technology advances faster than ever before. There are new mediums, new platforms and new trends that shape the way we communicate and connect with one another. One demographic that leads the way in utilizing technology and creating movements is our students. Everyday students are shaping technology trends in school, socially and beyond. And that means that in order to have increased and relevant engagement with students, student ministry leaders need to know how to harness the power of the technology available to them.
Today, one arena where this increasingly plays out is in social media. So how are student ministries using social media to interact with students and what are the platforms where they see the most engagement?
According to a study published by Statista (https://www.statista.com/chart/22446/most-used-social-media-platforms-by-us-teens/), most teens are interacting with three main social media platforms:
Dan Elkins, College & High School Pastor at Fruit Cove Baptist Church in St. Johns, said while it’s important to keep up with the changing tastes of the students, you need to focus your efforts on the platforms where you can get the most engagement. At Fruit Cove, that means Facebook for parents and adult leaders and Instagram for students. Often as more parents and other adults infiltrate a social media platform, the kids will migrate elsewhere. Even though Snapchat and TikTok are gaining in popularity among teens, many students still gravitate toward the graphics and picture-heavy style of Instagram.
Cam Boothe, one of the Student Ministry leaders at Mandarin Baptist Church, said social media is a great way to meet students where they are. When it comes to communicating information about events, the reach social media has is extremely valuable.
It’s important for leaders to understand the different strengths of each platform as well as the type of audience they draw which means knowing where to post is as important as knowing what to post in order to maximize social media’s usefulness. For the students at Mandarin Baptist, Cam has observed that students tend to go to TikTok for entertainment and Snapchat is great for reaching students individually but has it’s drawbacks when it comes to reaching a group.
YouTube, while not technically a social media platform, has become an important way to stay engaged with students. Student pastors can post announcements, messages or creative event advertisements that attract attention and can be easily shared. YouTube allows people who are unable to engage in person for whatever reason to remain connected to the student ministry group at large. All churches saw the value of this on some level during the pandemic and the trend has continued beyond quarantine.
Instagram still reigns as the number one place for students to get information and to keep up with their friends, while their parents may head to Facebook for that information.
Grace Roy would agree on the importance of Instagram. A sophomore at Bartram Trail High School and a member of Fruit Cove Baptist Church, Grace said Instagram is her go-to source for up-to-date information about what’s happening in student ministry. Because these posts are easy to share, it becomes a simple, low-risk way to invite people to student ministry events.
Dan pointed out that where once upon a time churches, groups and other organizations relied on Facebook pages, now the trend is groups. He said sometimes a particular post on a Facebook page might get buried in someone’s feed, but when someone posts to a group, everyone in the group gets a notification. It’s one way to make sure your information doesn’t get drowned out in a sea of noise.
To keep student ministry groups up to date, Dan said he moves graduating seniors from the high school group to the college group at the end of the school year and adds incoming freshman in the fall.
Another social media trend is the rise in the use of stories. Like a “snap” in Snapchat that self-deletes after being viewed, a story on Facebook or Instagram deletes after 24 hours. This up-to-the-minute feature hits the spot for students not interested in “old news” or looking back on their old pictures and posts.
While there’s no denying the appeal and popularity of social media engagement, it’s important to remind students to prioritize and value face-to-face interactions as well. Dan said it’s a conversation he continues to have with his students. It’s too easy for students to get lost in a virtual world and neglect interpersonal, in-person communication.
So take some time as 2022 begins to evaluate how you are using social media to maximize ministry engagement. Maybe it’s time to augment your profile or branch out onto new platforms. Whatever you do make sure you are using every tool in your ministry toolbox to make an impact.