Twitter and Youth Ministry

I first discovered Twitter about a year and a half ago.  It was getting some buzz on Google for the SXSW event that was all about tech.  Twitter was introduced there and it spread virally from that point on.  Being a tech nerd, I signed up, but soon realized that I just “didn’t get it.”  I left the Twitter Fields fallow, and forgot that the account even existed.  Only one tweet shouted my existence in the Twitosphere and it went something like, “I’m now on Twitter.”  Well, who cares…

One year passed.

SXSW reoccurred (as is usual for annual events), and Google news dug up articles about Twitter.  Remembering I had an account, I returned to find my lonely tweet still there.  Everything was the same, but something new had occurred.  More people were Twittering, and countless apps were coming out.  Mobile devices were now linked to the accounts, so I signed up my new Ipod touch to send and receive tweets.  If you have an unlimited text plan, or you can download an app like Tweetie on the Ipod touch or Iphone, which is the premiere way to use Twitter.  I got sucked in – but in a good way.  It’s practical.

Here is how it has helped my Youth Ministry experience: I looked and found that I could follow my favorite things like “The Economist” and “WBZ News Boston” and YPULSE (Youth Culture Research), and Walt Mueller’s CPYU (Youth Parent Understanding).  Not only that, but other youth ministers I knew were online.  Suddenly, I could follow Chap Clark, Doug Fields, and the YM guys in my region that were twittering.  I could see their tweets and see what they were doing with their ministries in ten seconds or less.  That was sweet.  I also found that many of the volunteers of our youth group were on Twitter, so we began bantering back and forth (basically updating, but sometimes making fun of each other’s days).  It became a point of connection for the team.  Lastly, I found that our students were getting accounts, so I followed a few of them.  Suddenly I am privy to the thoughts of my teens when they are bored in study hall, or when they are passing from class to class.  Their struggles and frustrations are aired on a visual radio station to my Ipod.  Quite frankly, Twitter opened a new world that was not visible previously.  The candid thoughts let me know when kids were taking AP’s and were tired, and helped me think through programming events through their eyes.  And when youth group went well, I could see it instantly as they went home and wrote about it in 140 words or less.

Twitter has also helped me organize my thoughts.  I write notes that I feel the community would enjoy, but these notes often have ideas and stories related to them that write a meta-narrative of my life.  I recently winded down at my ministry in Lexington, MA; and the creative bunch that I work with took my Tweets and printed them out on full 8×11 pages and pasted them around the room as they celebrated my years of ministry there.  Later, they handed me the papers and I read them from their perspective and found out how strange and sarcastic and sometimes thoughtful I could be.  It helped me to know myself better, which I appreciate.  I also star favorite tweets to come back to later, such as a good link from Christianity Today, or something I don’t have time to get to right away.  It organizes me and my time.

Now the counter arguments to using Twitter seem to come quite often, and I have addressed them frequently.  One main argument is that people are on Facebook and don’t have time for another social application.  I would argue that Twitter actually saves time when done right.  My Twitter account is linked to my status on Facebook, so when I Tweet, it becomes a status that can be discussed on Facebook.  I don’t even have to sign into Facebook, because my Facebook app on the ipod touch is perfectly situated next to the Twitter app.  I can go between them in seconds.

Another argument is that Twitter (and all web socials) depersonalize relationships.  I would also disagree.  It is true that many immature students and adults use social apps to do heartless things like breaking up with their boyfriend/girlfriend or sending a message of rebuke online rather than face2face.  But it is also true that those people would have done it in another callous way had the internet not existed.  I remember the devastating power of the “Note” in High School, and it had all the power of a Facebook message or a Tweet today.  Sure it is easier, but so is all the good stuff.  We can’t stay too pessimistic for long when we see that mature users can have a great time with the app.  If used to primarily start a conversation that leads to Face2Face contact, then why not start it here rather than a phone call.  It’s where the students are, so meet em where they are, No?

So in conclusion, I think that Twitter (like Facebook or the internet or the phone) is a somewhat neutral tool.  It can be used wisely or foolishly.  It can be used in excess, and consume too much time.  But the responsible Youth Minister can use it to connect with their teams, with their students, and have a hub of predigested research and links to other YM’s out there.  Don’t be afraid of new tech, because the fact remains, if you are uncomfortable with something you don’t have to use it, but it won’t hurt if you do.  Maybe it will take a year or two for it to sink in, and maybe there will be new apps in a year or so, but try it out and see how it works.  It might be fun.

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