I think most of us in the camp of facebook being a good ministry tool, although its effectiveness at time to communicate and actually elicit some sort of response to who is attending an event, or can help out at an event can be minimal. I am still of the belief that Facebook is useful and here is why I make a point to be a FB friend with every student possible that is a part of our group.
Humility: Lets admit it, most of us have gone home after youth group and scanned through Facebook to see what students wrote for a status update and if they mentioned being at Church. This is less about pumping up my own tires, and more about spotting trends. How did we teach tonight and did it stick? Are students sharing what happened or grieving missing the newest episode of Glee. More often than not, there is not much posted, and perhaps that is a reflection of how the night went. Its not a litmus test, but a decent indicator of whether or not we were clear in communicating God’s word and if we helped them understand how to apply it. The other half of the humility coin, is realizing just how much work needs to be done. My heart breaks regularly as I watch students wander down paths of destruction and pain and any time someone tries to pat us on the back about our ministry I want to reply with “we are not even close”. There are thousand of students near us that need to know Jesus and there is so much to do and just we can’t get full of ourselves.
Accountability: Facebook was gives us the ability to have a window into students and leaders lives that we never had before and vice versa. I love that students have a view into my life and can see the things I do when I am not “on” and I hope that they would see that my faith, my love of my wife goes deeper than just saying it. I want students to see my whole life and that means I need to live it. For students, since you are one of their hundreds of friends, they tend to be pretty real on FB which allows us to engage in parts of their life that are sometimes not good and have conversations about their struggles. I have been able to intervene with students before they get too far down a path of destruction and those conversations are not fun, but I am thankful to be able to have them.
Follow-up / Connection: This has been a huge win for us as far as getting students plugged into our program. We have lots of summer camps near us and several send us a list of students that made decisions, or showed interest in being a part of youth group when they got home. The challenge has always been cold calling students and inviting them to an unfamiliar place and everything we tried just seemed to miss. This year we plugged each of the names into Facebook and that revealed any friends in common who were a part of our group. Taking that information we contacted them and let each student know which of their friends were already here. We then took that list of friends in common and chose a few current students to suggest that they invite the new ones to our group. Retention of camp referrals and “new the church” students has increased significantly.
It’s a delicate balance being “friends” with students and remaining their leader and it’s a unique luxury that not even teachers are allowed to have. I see it as an opportunity to lead them better, encourage them more and model my Christian walk with more than my words on a youth night.