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Youth ministry and social media: Series introduction

June 13, 2013
By Verity A. Jones

This week we begin an eight-week series, Youth ministry and social media.

As churches are shifting to summer schedules and young people are packing up for camp, some who work with youth are settling in for a summer of planning for the coming program year. It may be time to overhaul the whole program or just retool a few approaches. It may be time to hire new staff or recruit new volunteers. Communicating with teens has been a perennial concern for youth ministries. Now as teens’ own communication preferences shift with every new app or social media platform, youth ministries must also perennially review the new digital context in which they do ministry with young people. We thought a summer series on youth ministry and social media might be well timed.

My preteen daughter heads out to summer church camp next week (not one sponsored by own denomination, much to my chagrin, but that’s another story). At the parent meeting, we were told that kids can bring mobile devices for the bus ride up, but that they will be confiscated before entering camp and returned on the bus ride home. The camp leaders don’t want to deal with potential theft, and they’d like the kids to be fully engaged with the natural world of camp and campers. We all nodded our heads, grateful for their discipline. Then, in a moment that perhaps revealed the leaders additional concern about parents over-communicating with kids at camp, they made sure we understood that after a week of no use, the devises would likely be dead when returned on the bus … so they won’t be texting or calling us even then!

Another camp director friend explained to me recently that their current challenge is how to advise camp counselors on their use of social media with campers after camp is over. A new host of issues is emerging for youth ministry today. We hope we can help identify some of those in this series and offer constructive ideas and resources to support this terribly important ministry.

Here is the question for this series: How do social media impact youth ministry today? What are pastors who work with youth doing with social media and how do they think about what they are doing, including their impressions of the pitfalls and the opportunities, the cautions and the real blessings, the creativity and the insights? Additionally, we wonder what we can learn about ministry in general from the changing context of youth ministry brought about by changing communication patterns. I, for one, am eager to learn from today’s young people how they think differently from myself due at least in part to the emergence of social media and other new kinds of media.

Some writers for this series are our own New Media Research Fellows who study theology and church history; others are youth pastors and clergy in congregations and judicatories. They come from a variety of ecclesiological settings, from Catholic to African Methodist Episcopal. We are grateful to all of them for taking the time to share their experience and expertise with us. We hope our readers will feel free to comment upon and question and share these posts as well. Unless you are at camp, then put those devices away!

Verity A. Jones is the executive director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, and project director of the New Media Project which is now part of this new Center.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.


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