If you are in youth ministry, but you’re not on Twitter, you’re missing a big opportunity. You’re missing an opportunity to be informed, to inform, and most importantly, to connect. You’ve probably read that the rise in social media comes from our natural desire to connect. Sure, it’s influencing the way in which we connect. People are arguing it’s impacting us negatively. I agree it has really influenced the way in which we communicate and understand communication. That’s why I believe it’s more important than ever for you to use Twitter.
I used to have a classmate who said, “I think I have a Twitter, but I don’t use it.” This person had also never heard of Kid President, and my guess, has also yet to see the “What Does the Fox Say” video. By not knowing about and using Twitter, you are not only out of the loop, I question if you really love teen culture at all.
Yes, there are more Facebook users than Twitter users. I’ve noticed in my own life, I don’t use Facebook as often as I used to. I am a lot more active on Twitter and Instagram. Quite frankly, so are most teenagers. According to this article published on May 22, 20131:
“While Facebook is still deeply integrated in teens’ everyday lives, it is sometimes seen as a utility and an obligation rather than an exciting new platform that teens can claim as their own,” the report says.
According to that report, 24% of teens use Twitter.
According to a GlobalWebIndex Study, Twitter is the fastest growing social network in the world by active users. It had 44% growth from June 2012 to March 2013.2
Twitter is more than just telling people what you had for breakfast. However, if that’s what you are interested in doing, I recommend Instagram. My picture of a bowl of oatmeal has gotten more likes than almost anything else I’ve posted.
Since over-55s are the fastest growing demographic on Twitter, who knows if teens will move social media outlets once they feel like too many parents are following them. Until then, let’s make the most of the opportunity we have with Twitter.
Follow Your Teens
This should be obvious, but only follow them on Twitter if they don’t care if you are following them. It is a good way to see what they are talking about and interested it. I believe it’s very important to be well-aware of what’s happening in teen culture—not so you can imitate it, but so you can find ways to embrace it. One of the reasons more teens are using Twitter over Facebook is because they wanted to get away from their parents, so respect teens’ space. Don’t follow every teenager; try to follow teenagers you know a little better. Ask them if it’s alright to follow them. Honestly, they will probably forget you follow them, so they won’t censor what they say. In my opinion, unless it’s dangerous, don’t call them out on what they say on Twitter.
Follow Other Youth Pastors and Church Leaders
Not only does this help you connect with others, but this can provide a way to connect with great resources. If you live in a smaller town, you may not have the opportunity for a connection among local youth pastors. I am fortunate to be part of a denomination made of districts and regions, which allow for opportunities to connect. If you don’t have that, Twitter is a great way to start making connections. Follow people who post quality content and link to helpful articles and resources.
Don’t have this be the only way you are getting announcements and information out there, but this is a great way to provide information. Since tweets are only 140 characters, this probably won’t contain all the information needed. It’s still a great way to provide information through several outlets. Not to mention it’s good to be reminding people of what’s coming up.
Enforce Points of Emphasis
It’s easy for teens to forget about a sermon or lesson right after they walk out of youth group. I love using tangible lessons and take-aways. Twitter allows you to tweet throughout the week points you preached or taught. This will re-enforce your key points. Consider using hashtags to connect with themed lessons. Your teens probably won’t start conversations with these hashtags (it’d be great if they did, but let’s be realistic), but I still believe hashtags are useful and beneficial.
Model Good Twitter Use
If teens don’t follow many adults (and if their parents are not on Twitter), but they happen to follow you on Twitter, you have a great opportunity. Don’t waste it! You don’t want to blow up people’s Twitter feeds (because then everyone will unfollow you in a second), but you are able to model good Twitter use. Retweet interesting, helpful, or encouraging tweets. Recognize this is an opportunity to build others up, not tear them down. Be aware of who is following you—don’t retweet crude tweets. Most importantly: just because you may be using Twitter to follow teens, does not mean you need to tweet like teens. Tweet like an adult. Use proper grammar. Yes, I realize you are limited to 140 characters, which means sometimes you have to be creative. However, it’s not worth saying if you have to substitute “u” for “you.”
It’s still totally okay for you to talk like a 90s kid and follow something up with #not.
Remember Your Words Matter
Sometimes it feels like we are not making a difference. But you are making a difference.
Honestly, I only remember a handful of sermons growing up in youth group. And I was the kid who took notes and paid attention (I’m still the person who listens to sermons in my free time for fun). I remember random snippets from sermons or conversations with my youth pastor. I do know this: the negative words stick with me. I may not remember the exact words of encouragement, but I needed them.
I don’t know who is following you on twitter or reading your 140-character nugget of wisdom, but whatever you put out there on the internet becomes your indelible footprint in the interweb world. It makes a different. I have this app on my phone called Timehop that shows me what I wrote on Twitter and Facebook in prior years. I said ridiculous stuff as a freshman in college, let me tell you. It doesn’t go away that easily. I want my footprint to be filled with helpful words and encouragement.
Annie Downs has a lot to say about speaking love in her book, Speak Love. She writes:
“Be the [one] who speaks life. Not the one who wounds.”
Note on Hashtags:
I often use hashtags ironically. It’s the twenty-something within me; what can I say? However, the purpose of hashtags is to connect to others who are talking about the same thing. Also: don’t use punctuation in your hashtags. It breaks it apart and totally defeats the purpose. Also, you will only look ridiculous. #dothis #don’tdothis
While part of me desires us to all begin talking in hashtags, I realize we would look like this.
Which, while hilarious, is also pretty ridiculous.