“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”
As I sit in my office on a typical work day I am working on my widescreen laptop, listening to music in Apple’s iTunes software and chatting with my wife over Google Talk–one of many Instant Messaging programs available online. In addition to this, I have Firefox–my web browser–open on the 2nd monitor attached to my laptop with my Gmail inbox in one tab and Google Calendar in another. To my left sits a second laptop that I regularly use for my job and several MiniDV tapes with video footage waiting to be edited into a final product. My job? I am the Director of Student Ministries at a Lutheran church.
Technology has invaded every aspect of our lives and it’s changing the way we connect with one another. Many of my friends have no “land line” at home, only their cell phones. Text and picture messages allow us to instantly share news with one another without stopping our lives. The written word via email and instant messaging eliminates the need to talk with one another face to face. Weblogs (or blogs as they are better known) allow our friends to keep up to date with our lives without actually spending time with us.
Our students are even more immersed in technology than we are. In addition to all things instant (from IM to text messaging), social networking sites like MySpace (www.myspace.com) and Facebook (www.facebook.com) continue to gain popularity among youth. YouTube and other Video-based websites (for making VideoLogs or vlogs) are also growing in popularity. The irony of all this technology is that it promises new and exciting ways to stay connected with friends…without actually spending time with them!
So what does this mean for the church, specifically in student ministries? Like many areas of our life, technology calls for a balanced approach. Obviously, ignoring the new technologies that are available for ministry is a mistake. Equally obvious is that giving up face-to-face time with youth is a mistake. To continue reaching this generation of students, we must leverage this technology into effective ministry. Here are four tips to help you along the way:
1. Get wired.
Being wired into technology (or, more appropriately, being wireless) is increasingly important. Youth will share things in IM conversations that they would never share face to face with you. They bare their souls for the entire world to see on MySpace or similar sites, oftentimes never thinking about who might be reading their posts. If you are not sure how to get started with this, get a few youth together to teach you. They’ll love the opportunity to teach you some new things, but they’ll love the time with you even more. As you start to learn more about these technologies, you can use them to keep up on the lives of your youth and send them messages of hope.
2. Be Intentional.
Look for places where you can use videos and other digital media to your advantage in ministry. From media countdowns to teaching videos, use the technology that is available to enhance your time with students. You can even build events around technological activities by having youth make videos together and showing them at a later youth event or doing a picture scavenger hunt where youth have to work together to get digital pictures of places around your town. Some of my favorite pictures in ministry have been the ones that appear on my camera because a youth started walking around with it and snapped some pictures. Give students an opportunity to serve by running this technology for you when you get together, but remember, you don’t have to go overboard–not everything has to be digital.
3. Disconnect Youth So They Can Get Connected.
When youth come to an event, consider enforcing rules that allow them to disconnect the technology that isolates them from others. In my ministry, I’ve banned headphones except when sleeping on retreats, because they allow youth to check out from the world around them. While many youth leaders dread long van rides with youth, I love them because youth have to interact with one another. At first the policy was difficult for youth, but they realized it wasn’t so bad and that they actually enjoyed the time interacting with others instead of listening to their iPods and CD players the entire time.
Eliminating the technology that isolates youth from others helps them form relationships with those around them. Similarly, by using certain technology, you can get youth to interact in new and fun ways. At a recent High School youth party, I pulled out my Playstation 2 video game console and hooked up Dance Dance Revolution. While only one person could be dancing at a time, the youth were all involved cheering the dancer on and laughing together. They were making connections with one another.
4. Get Connected.
Lastly, and most importantly, you need to get connected if your ministry with students is going to be effective. My confirmation verse–and my installation verse at all three churches where I have served–is John 15:5. It reads, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (NIV) Despite all the ways that technology can be used in our ministry, the success of our ministry depends not on that technology, but upon our connection with Jesus. It is through this connection that we bear fruit–not through our own ways or the technology we possess.
Similarly, we must get connected to our youth and their families. Our Middle-School students love coming to Cornerstone, our confirmation ministry. We run a PowerPoint-based, media-rich program. There are PowerPoint games and slides for the teaching time. There are countdowns and videos. There is even a podcast that students and families can tune into if they miss class or just want to hear the teaching time again. The reality, however, is that while the youth enjoy the technology, they continue to come because of their small group. Many of our students would even tell you that the small group time is the highlight of their week. From the small group leader to the other students in the group, our youth love the personal connection they have with others.
Perhaps our technology really has exceeded our humanity, but it has not exceeded God’s ability to use it for His glory. So stay connected, balancing all the exciting new technologies that are available with the all important connection to Christ and passing that on through connections with students on a personal level.