(Vintage Computer photo by x-ray delta one.)
First of all, I have a positive view of technology usage in youth ministry. But I am reminded technology means something totally different for the next generation. Technology to a teen is not just a tool but a way of life. Technology should play vital roles in how youth pastors do youth ministry in the online world. The Barna Group conducted a research study, How Technology Drives Generation Gap, and concluded:
Younger adults rely on technology to facilitate their search for meaning and connection. Technologies have begun to rewire the ways in which young people—meet, express themselves, use content and stay connected.
Technology means too much to the teenage population. Technology must change and enhance the way we do ministry. Here are a few ways I have seen and heard technology changing the landscape of youth ministry praxis:
• Training – Leaders, families, and students are busy and may not have time to attend a mandatory parent meeting or leaders training. So, how can a student pastor still transmit content, information, and vision in a communication medium? Do it via social media. Start a website, youtube channel, and twitter feed and leverage social media in a way that can train adult volunteers or give parents critical info. The best part about this method is that they (parents/leaders) can be trained when it is most convient for them. My point is that multiple communication technologies are necessary when equipping and informing parents, leaders, or students because everyone doesn’t use the same medium. Yes, this might equal more work for the youth pastor, but it also equals a higher chance that the message will be received. One of my great friends in youth ministry, Drew Sams, pastor of student ministries at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California, wrote a great article talking about leveraging social media to build a missional team. Read it here. Youth ministry trainings are often offered more and more online than they are offline.
• Contact Work – A large majority of contact work with students happens online. Contact work is when adult leaders build relationships with teens. There are three levels of contact work in order to build trust: 1) be seen, 2) talk with all types of kids, and 3) do something together. Level 1 and 2 can predominantly be done online. Typically, level 1 and 2 are the longest stages in contact work process. However, doing contact work online makes it way easier to connect with a wide variety of students in a short amount of time. Plus, the adult volunteer is highly visible and will be considered highly relational by students. Not only are students on technology a lot, but students are way more open when they are on their computer/smart phone keyboard than they are in small group. Some of my best ministry moments have happened from a keyboard. Youth leaders must meet students on their “technology turf” where they are comfortable in order to connect, relate and understand teens. Connecting in this way may seem impersonal to older generations, but we have to remember that the way teens connect with one another has changed dramatically even in the last five years.
• Globalization – Technology has enabled ideas and information to circulate and be spread around the world. Some of the strongest cell phone signals are in rural parts of Africa. Therefore, students are being exposed to other countries’ cultures and realities. Teens are becoming more aware of what is happening around the world without ever having to go anywhere. Students are realizing how good they have it in America. I think students are more motivated (than ever) to travel across the world to learn and be a part of cultural experiences. I have had former students who lived in Australia, Russia, Japan, China, Africa, Germany, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, and Switzerland. In their minds, traveling across the globe is not what just church missionaries do now. In addition students of the next generation are way more inspired to going on a oversees mission trip.
• Mobilization – Due to globalization, students are more compelled to work with God to fight world hunger, child soliders, and to help provide clean water. Students of the next generation are longing for energizing visions worthy of pursuit and sacrifice. Technology has empowered students to join God in His redemptive work in rescuing the world from its plight. Now, a student doesn’t have to just go on a mission trip to help the world better be a better, Gospel centered place. A student can mobilize his/her teenage tribe to do something about confronting the evils of the world—all while sitting in his/her bedroom eating potato chips.
• Integration – The usage of technology in youth ministry cannot be compartmentalized. Youth pastors cannot only be on facebook at 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Technology has to play an integral role in the life of youth ministry. Drew Sams (in his article) refers to Marshall McLuhan, a sociologist from the 20th century, who defined technology as an “extension of our humanity.” It is important not to fight against the technological innovations but to learn how to adapt them into the every day praxis of youth ministry. Don’t use technology just to “spy” on students. Be visible, engaged, and interactive. The youth pastors and youth leaders that can implement and manage technology integration in their ministries will be highly effective in their contact work and relational ministry.
My warning – Please don’t let the integration of technology in your youth ministry dictate every aspect of your ministry. If you do, you will have missed my point. The use of technology should be used to enhance what you are already doing and to potentially change the way you are doing it, but only if it furthers the Kingdom. Just being connected for the sake of being connected will waste the resource that technology can be. There will need to be appropriate boundaries applied to this technology integration. I would highly recommend Rhett Smith’s (licensed therapist and youth pastor) article: Maintaing Relational Presence in a Technological World, which describes the insane importance of intentionality when using technology and how technology usage shapes us.
Jeremy Zach is an average-fixer upper- type of youth worker. Stuff that makes him smile: his wife, technology, student pastors, productivity, theology, airplanes, student ministry, Mixed Martial Arts and techno music.