We got to talking about the ways that technology has impacted youth ministry in the past few years. We surmised that the primary form of communication with teens is text messaging, followed by Facebook. (This is not an earth-shattering observation, I realize.) We boasted about how lucky our churches are that we have unlimited texting plans that we pay for and about how awesome we are at using Facebook to connect with kids. Good for us...
But then we paused. Are we really using these tools in the best possible way?
I hearkened back to Andy Root's excellent book Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry:
Ministry, then, is not about "using" relationships to get individuals to accept a "third thing," whether that be conservative politics, moral behaviors, or even the gospel message. Rather, ministry is about connection, one to another, about sharing in suffering and joy, about persons meeting persons with no pretense or secret motives. It is about shared life, confessing Christ not outside the relationship but within it. This, I learned, was living the gospel.
I wonder if maybe the same principal applies to our use of technology in relational ministry. Maybe instead of using texting and Facebook to get kids to come to youth group, we should use those tools to bring the presence of Christ to those young people through the communication. Let's look at the other members of the Unholy Half Dozen. Anne carries on conversations that span several days through text messaging. Jake uses Tatango to send a daily text message devotion to his high schoolers. Angie and Megan are constantly posting comments and messages on kids' Facebook wall.
In the scenario of technological incarnational youth ministry, the question is no longer "how many kids came to youth group", but instead "how many kids did you text this week"?
It's a slippery slope. My friend Eric always says there's no such thing as a solitary Christian. In essence, faith is both a private belief and a corporate confession. We are always driven to a communal expression of our faith through worship and acts of lovingkindness. It's easy to allow the digital communication we have with young people to become their primary connection to the church. This is not good; not only because of the Pied Piper Syndrome, but because it robs young people of the richness of Christian community and sharing the sacraments.
I might play around with this a little in the coming week. I'll continue to use texting and Facebook to remind kids of upcoming events (youth group, Easter Breakfast, Youth Gatheirng meetings, etc.) -- but I also might try to devote some time each day to intentionally make more frequent connections with kids through the use of these technological media.
I just hope these kids have unlimited text messaging plans, too!