This three-part series is a set of (lightly edited) excerpts from the book Today’s Vital Church, Volume 1.
Results of Research
After that conversation [with Shane Sooter — see Part 1], I did research on how churches are using video production to reach youth. What I found is that:
- Reaching youth through video production is something that any church of any size in any location can do.
- It’s an approach that works well for many of today’s youth, including those who have little or no interest in participating in a youth group.
- It gives many teens an easy way to invite their friends to participate in an activity that those friends already are doing, many of them on an almost daily basis. The only difference is that, this time, the activity happens to be at a church with a church youth group.
Let’s take a look at the role of social media in the lives of today’s youth and why it is so important for churches to engage youth through media, specifically by enabling and encouraging youth to produce media, especially videos, as a part of the life of the church.
Teens and Social Media
I gleaned a lot of information on teens and social media from the February 2014 article “Social Media 101”.
According to the May 2013 Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Report on Teens, Social Media, and Privacy”, nearly 80% of teens use some form of social media, and over half of all teens visit social sites at least daily.
While nearly all teen social media users say they have a Facebook profile, and four out of five say that Facebook is the social site they use most often, it appears that Facebook’s teen appeal is fading, in part because there are too many adults on the site.
Twitter use is picking up among teens, with one in four now using Twitter, as compared to only one in six adults. Teens like the Twitter limit of 140 characters per post because it allows for less “drama” than Facebook, with its long posts and endless comments.
Teens with iPods and smartphones often use those devices to take pictures and record short videos, so those teens are attracted to social media sites where they can share their pics and videos with friends, see what their friends have posted, and interact. Facebook and Twitter support the posting of pictures and videos, but teens increasingly are turning to social media sites that specialize in visual media, such as the older YouTube, Vimeo, and Flickr and the newer Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine.
Teens enjoy social media because it is entertaining, allows them to express their creativity and ideas, and enables them to connect and interact with other teens. Because many teens are visually oriented, pictures and videos allow for creative expression that words alone cannot.
The Fuller Youth Institute interviewed Danah Boyd, author of the book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Boyd is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft, a Professor at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Fortune magazine calls her “the reigning expert on how young people use the Internet.” Here are some excerpts from that interview, where “DB:” prefaces a quote from Danah Boyd, and “FYI:” prefaces a quote from the Fuller Youth Institute.
DB: Teens turn to technology because it’s the one way that they have to connect with their friends in a culture in which we’ve placed heavy restrictions on teens’ mobility and social opportunities.
It is important to put technology into perspective. We used to be afraid of novels because we were worried that youth would disappear into fantasy worlds and be unable to connect. We feared radio, television, comic books. Each new media is feared, but the fears themselves aren’t that different. The key is to appreciate how hard it is for young people to navigate this world and appreciate their commitment to figuring it out. New technologies are part of that…I’d like us to step away from fretting over technology and focus on the love and attention that teens need from us.
Tips for Youth Leaders and Churches
DB: Youth leaders should not focus on technology but should help young people work through the struggles that are shaped by their age, status, and position in society. Adult youth leaders should enter teens’ networked lives when they’re invited to do so and be respectful of what they find. Technology is not the center of teens’ lives. It’s simply that which mirrors and magnifies everyday life. The church can and often does provide teens with a critical support structure, and this is very important.
FYI: A lot of churches and ministries have been trying to integrate social media into both their marketing and outreach, and their teaching curriculum materials for young people. Are there any best practices you might recommend with regards to using it more effectively in either of those respects? Any common pitfalls leaders should avoid?
DB: I get why folks want to use social media to market to youth, but youth want social media to be their own. Valuable marketing occurs when youth pull on something that’s created by ministries and make it their own, not when it’s simply broadcast out. Thus, my advice would be to focus on creating media that teens can appropriate, remix, or otherwise engage in and see what clicks based on what they choose to share. But above all else, don’t try to be “cool” by directly targeting youth. Work with youth to co-create this stuff. That is the core of authenticity for them.
In Part 3, we take a closer look at the benefits of having teens collaborate on media creation.