Social Media: The New Mission Field of Student Ministry
The Book, The Gram, The Bird, The Ghost
This roll call of media makes up the nuclear family of virtual gathering spaces. Most people with a computer or smart phone visit this "family" on a daily basis. I am still completely blown away by just how quickly these mediums came into existence and importance in our lives. Access and entertainment not even dreamt of back when I was filling my down-time with televised cartoons is now a dominant reality for many of us.
I work with college students and so social media is a presence that dots the landscape of student ministry. Most of them are on multiple platforms every day. They talk about, critique, and laugh over it but most of all - they use it. They use it a ton. For many of them, it is something they look at first thing in the morning and last thing at night. It is a favorite time-filler allowing them to scroll and get caught up while waiting in line, walking to class, or to curb boredom. I say this with confidence, not just because I live and breathe college ministry, but also because I just did some research for a paper I am presenting in a few weeks at the Ecclesiology & Ethnography Conference. In the course of my research I learned several things but among the most alarming are these:
There are very few resources that instruct student ministers on how to engage missionally in virtual spaces. (Barna Group just released a study I highly recommend, but this is just one of very few I found)
While most of my students are on social media, almost none can recall their church or youth group talking much about it. Some can remember scattered warnings about the dangers of social media, but none could relay any substantial conversations or guidance about how to inhabit these social spaces.
Additionally, my students report that their church or youth group only used social media promotionally. Many of their youth groups had an Instagram or Facebook page but posts were mostly about what was coming up or what event had just occurred. They might post pictures of students having fun with friends at said event but there was little other engagement.