I was intrigued by this recent Mashable post with numbers on teens and texting. A whopping 71% of teens prefer texting to talking and 45% of teens sends at least 30 text messages a day. The numbers seem to suggest that texting (and typing in general, because Facebook and other social media have a powerful attraction as well on teens) is the way teens want to communicate instead of talking on the phone or face to face. So what does that mean for youth ministry?
As with every trend, every development in the way we relate to other people, there are two possible scenarios: we adapt it or we can fight it. Which is the better choice in this case? Should we jump on the texting bandwagon as youth ministry (in so far as we haven’t done that yet) and milk it for all it’s worth or should we condemn this horrid habit and stay far away from it?
Pros and cons of texting
Let’s look at some pros and cons of texting before we make up our mind how to handle it:
Pros of texting:
- It’s fast, it doesn’t take long to create a text or to read one
- It’s ‘actual’, chances are high kids will read the message instantly
- It resonates with current youth culture, which may results in a favorable impression of youth ministry in general and you as youth leader in particular
Cons of texting:
- It can get expensive if you start texting all the kids in your youth ministry
- It’s impersonal
- As with all written messages, things can be easily misunderstood due to lack of ‘expression’ and the necessity of keeping it short
- It’s more anonymous than talking face to face, resulting in lower barriers to certain behavior (like flirting, crude remarks, criticism)
I think the biggest risk is that texting (and other social media) will take the place of personal conversations, either on the phone or face to face. In our busy schedule as youth leaders, it can be very tempting to do a quick text instead of a phone call, especially with phone calls being awkward every now and then. But if we want to disciple our students, we need to spend time with them, talk with them, hang out with them. Social media can never take the place of real life contact and we need to remember that.
Personally, I think texting is a great tool that can be used in youth ministry with good results, if we keep the pros and cons in the back of our heads. There’s nothing wrong with texting itself, we just need to use it wisely. We should use texting in those cases where its pros can be used and we should choose another method of communication where its cons are a big risk. Whenever you think about using texting as a tool, take a moment to analyze if it’s the best tool and if there are any possible negative side effects.
Great ways to use texting in youth ministry
When used in appropriate situations, texting can be very useful in youth ministry. Here’s a few ideas how:
- For keeping in touch with your small group during the week and showing your interest in what they’re doing. You can send them a text to ask how their exam went or if they won the match. And don’t forget birthday wishes!
- To do announcements of events, for instance a few days ahead or a reminder on the day of the event.
- For cancellations. Notify students up front when there’s a chance of cancellation, so they know to watch their cell phones for messages.
- For prayer requests or urgent announcements. If you have all your student’s cell phone numbers (and/or those of their parents!) and the ways of sending a group text, you can notify all students at once if there’s an urgent prayer request or if something has happened.
- Texting news about events to parents so they know what’s happening in your youth ministry that week
- Why not do some interactive texting during a sermon? Let students text their responses or questions and have them show up on screen. Here’s an example of a youth ministry that used texting during a talk with great results.
- Take a poll during an event where students can text the answers.
I bet if you think about it, you could come up with more creative ways to use this technology in youth ministry, for instance in your small group.
When not to use texting
Here’s a few situations in which texting is not the right choice:
- For pastoral questions or situations, not even as a follow up. A personal conversation is way better in those cases because you can use all your senses to check how your students is doing.
- To replace actual face to face time. It’s fine to text only during a very busy week, but don’t let texting come in the way of an actual face to face relationship with your students.
- For any kind of criticism, no matter how ‘light’ or ‘well meant’. If you want to communicate anything negative about a student’s behavior (including ‘I missed you last night), make a call or do it in person. Texts are easily misunderstood and can cause a world of pain.
Twitter as alternative to texting
If the costs of a group texting plans are more than your youth ministry can pay, there’s always the option of using Twitter as a sort of free texting tool. Just create a Twitter account for your youth ministry (make it a closed one so it stays private), have all your students sign up and follow. They can then choose to have all updates sent to their cell phones for free.
Some general guidelines for texting
It’s probably a good idea to include some general guidelines about texting in your code of conduct for your leaders. Unfortunately, there have been incidents where texting led to improper behavior. Protect your leaders, your students and yourself with good, clear guidelines. Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t text anything parents aren’t allowed to read. That includes texts with any kind of comment about the student’s parents! Always calculate the fact in that their parents will read the text
- Never assume that what you text is private, so be careful with privacy sensitive info
- Do not assume your students have an unlimited, all paid texting plan…their parents will end up paying!
- Keep your ‘texting hours’ reasonable and don’t text after 10 p.m.
How do you use texting in your youth ministry? Have you experienced any disadvantages yet? How do you handle the risks of texting? I’d love to hear your thoughts!