Effectively Using Social Media

Most of us recognize that social media is an effective tool and means of communication in student ministry. But we should also critically think through how and why we use it. Social media is a powerful tool that we can leverage but if we don’t have a plan or target for the intent and purpose of it, we are simply using an effective tool in an ineffective way. Today, I want to share a few things that you should think through as you utilize social media to equip, empower, and disciple your students.

Know your purpose for using social media.

It is easy to simply jump on the social media bandwagon because everyone else is using it in student ministry. But how and why each ministry uses social media is different. Some use it to simply put out content that is engaging. Others use it to communicate information. Some will use it to evangelize or disciple people. Still others use it to highlight their ministry, students, leaders, or families. What is your purpose, or your ministry’s purpose, in using social media? Once you answer that question you can begin building effective social media content for your audience.

Think through which apps you will use.

As you begin thinking about how to utilize social media effectively, you must think about which apps or social media channels you will use and why. Think through which age demographics are using which social media platforms. Consider who your primary audience is on each platform. Think about whether the social media you are using is going to be effective for your purpose. Also, read through the background and user agreement for the apps or platforms you are using. Some social media platforms were built for nefarious purposes and their desire is actually completely anti-student ministry. As you dig into these factors and engage with them, it will help you choose which apps to utilize and think about how and why you are using them.

Have a social media posting schedule.

Having consistent times to post and share content is hugely important. It affords you a timetable of when you post, it allows you to shape what is posted and when, and it allows your people to know and follow your schedule. It could be as simple as choosing a day or two to share posts that encourage engagement, it could be a day set aside for a weekly devotion, it could be reminders for programming, or it could be a weekly post highlighting leaders or students. Once you have a schedule figured out, make sure to communicate that with your teams, your students, and with families. This then affords you an opportunity to share what and why you are posting and to help curate buy-in to the ministry.

Post at appropriate times.

As you begin thinking about what you are posting, it is important to think about when you are posting. As simple as it seems, knowing what time of day and what days to post various content is highly important. Posting content for your audience means knowing when your audience is most inclined to view that content. If you’re posting on a school day for students it wouldn’t be prudent to post at 10 a.m. when they are in class. The same could be said for knowing when and what to post for parents; posting during a work day may not be prudent but posting once they are home would be.

Leverage your content to reflect your vision.

This is a big piece of utilizing social media well: use your platform to share your vision and the heart of your ministry. Whenever you post to social media make sure the vision and heart of your ministry is clear. This is true not just in the words you share but your photos and videos should communicate that as well. If your vision is focused discipleship communities and not large events, it would be prudent for your images to reflect that. So think through what your are sharing how it can best represent and reflect your vision well.

Incorporate photos and stories of your people.

One of the best ways to utilize social media well is using photos of your people. When you take photos of your students, leaders, or families and share them, it brings attention to your ministry and drives engagements up. People want to see what is happening and be invested in the important parts of your ministry; and your people are just that. So include photos and stories that share what God is doing and allow that to drive engagement on your social media platforms.

Ministry Ideas During Lockdown: Digital Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are a ton of fun, but typically we default to thinking of these as having to be in-person events. With the technology we have though we can easily leverage these events in a digital format. Today we want to offer some ways you can implement these digital ideas in your ministry and utilize them during the holiday season as well.

Before implementing this, here are a few key things to consider:

  • Do my students have social media?
  • What social media platforms do my students most utilize?
  • What type of involvement do I want from this?
  • What do I want this challenge to do for our program?
  • What level of involvement will this need?
  • Is there a prize involved? An easy prize would be digital gift cards or a socially distanced youth pastor drop off of a gift card or gift box at the winner’s home. If you do drop it off, get a video or photo and share it on your social media to drive more engagement.
  • Make sure to bring the energy and engagement on your end. If you aren’t engaged and having fun, your student won’t either. Your level of involvement will affect theirs.


Scavr is a great online resource that allows you to build, manage, and host the scavenger hunt in a live format if you desire. This could be fun if you wanted to host this digital event at a set time where everyone is actively engaged with it. However, the limitation comes where only you are seeing the photos as they come in because they are submitted through the Scavr app. A way you could work around this is either have students and leaders also share them under a hashtag on social media or you try downloading all them and put it into a slideshow for everyone. You can also use an online video chat afterward to talk through the event and award prizes to the winner. For more information on how to utilize this program, check out our earlier post on games for small groups.


Instagram Stories would be a really easy way for you to incorporate digital challengers to be completed. Reach out to your group ahead of time and let them know the rules (the easier the better: complete the task, post it in your story, and tag the social media account that is hosting the challenge) and then either host the challenge on a single day or do a challenge each day for a week. This is a great idea to utilize over Christmas break because it offers engagement, community from a distance, and opportunities for you to connect with your students.

Youth Pastor/Leader on a Shelf

Most of us are familiar with Elf on the Shelf. But consider a digital scavenger hunt where each day students will need to recreate a photo or video that the leader shares of themselves “on a shelf.” Come up with a bunch of fun places to pose and challenge your students to recreate them to the best of their abilities. Utilize a fun hashtag with this one like “Youth Leader Elfie” and think ahead about how you can create new, exciting, and safe poses that challenge your students each week.

Acts of Service

Consider using your digital scavenger hunt as a way of blessing others in your church or community. Give students a task each day or week, depending on the size and nature of the task, and have them share a photo or video showing they completed it. You can be as specific or general as you like with this challenge. It could be taking out the trash at home, shoveling snow for a neighbor, donating food to a food pantry, baking cookies for frontline workers, or helping get the church ready for Christmas. This is an awesome way to encourage students to embody the life Jesus calls us to live.

This type of scavenger hunt would be a great follow up to a series on serving or living sacrificially as it makes it very practical. You could also host a digital pizza party afterward and debrief what was learned. To host a digital pizza party, buy each student a pizza and a 2 liter of soda (Aldi has great deals on these products) and deliver them to each student who participated. Let them know that they should prepare the pizza for your Zoom meeting so you can all share in a meal together.

Christmas Break Version

If you are looking to give your students something to do over your whole break, consider putting together a list of tasks, challenges, service opportunities, and anything else creative that you can think of. Send this list out to them and let them know the rules and timeline for the event. If you want students to submit photos and/or videos, make sure you have a place that has enough digital space to store them. Also, if they need to do acts of service consider having a parent sign off on it. This could also be an opportunity for you to leverage family engagement by challenging families to do this together and compete against one another.

Tips for New Youth Pastors [Part 2]

Last week we took a look at some general tips for anyone starting a new youth pastor position. However, given that we are currently trying to do ministry during a pandemic this can look very different depending on where you serve. With safe guards in place and new requirements coming up frequently, it is important to address different ways of engaging with your students, families, and leaders in this new normal.

This week I want to share some helpful tips for those starting during this season that apply to a more socially-distanced style of ministry.

Coordinate digital meetups.

I know that many people hate video calls at this point and that Zoom-fatigue is setting in. But try hosting meetups online where people can come and get to know you. If you are doing it for students, try to engage with them outside of the normal meet and greet flow. Have some online games, utilize prizes (digital gift cards are awesome, especially if you can get them to local stores/restaurants), set up a digital scavenger hunt, or have people come in costume. All of these will help engage students who may not be super willing to jump into another Zoom session.

Increase your online presence.

Most youth workers have social media, but if you are like me… your personal feeds may be lacking. I don’t post often, and my students let me know. Even students who I don’t know personally have told me I need to up my Insta game.

My point? Students see us in all capacities, whether in person or online, and they are watching us. A great way to help students get to know is by posting about yourself. Not in some egotistical way, but in a way that shows who you are. Post pictures of your spouse and family doing things together, post where you are going or what you are doing especially if it is in town, host AMAs (Ask Me Anything) and polls in your stories, ask for advice on what to do and where to go. These are just a few ways to help you engage with others.

Utilize your youth group’s social media.

Depending on the size of your church and youth group, you may have social media accounts set up for your youth group. If so, leverage that to help people get to know you. Post about who you are and share some fun facts. Host a “get to know the youth pastor session” on your youth group’s pages. Post fun and funny videos of you getting acclimated to your new work environment. Post “Trivia Thursdays” and whoever answers the most questions correctly wins a digital gift card. Ask questions through a poll on your social media page or story.

Here are some easy questions to utilize in a post or story:

  • What would you like to see this coming year?
  • What series or topics would you like to have covered?
  • What is one thing you would like to see changed?
  • What is your favorite memory from youth group?
  • Why do you come to youth group?
  • What worship songs would you like us to play?
  • What would encourage your friends to come?
  • What games would you like to play online or in-person?

Send a note or postcard.

This will depend on the size of your youth group, but consider sending students a little hand written note introducing yourself, sharing about a digital meetup, and saying how excited you are to meet them. Receiving an actual letter or postcard is a sure way to connect with a student and their family as they will see you taking an interest in their student’s life.

If you serve in a large youth group and this isn’t a feasible option, consider sending a handwritten note to all your leaders. Your students will be looking to their leaders to get a feel for the new youth pastor, and if they have a good feeling for you it will be replicated to their students. It is also a sure fire way to value and elevate your leaders.

How have you seen ministry succeed during this time? What have been “wins” for your ministry?

Ministry Planning in Uncertain Times

Our world is ever changing. A little over a month ago, and few of us had ever heard of the Coronavirus. Now, most of us have moved our offices and ministries into our homes and are hosting youth group gatherings through Zoom and YouTube.

With a changing world comes a change in the method and manner in which we do ministry. But the question is, “how do we do effective ministry and planning in times such as these?” Well, today I hope to give you some advice and tips for how to do this well going forward. This is not a catchall, but rather some tips that I hope help you to think creatively through where your ministry is at and where it is going.

Plan ahead

This is hard to do when life is uncertain and events, outings, and gatherings are being cancelled farther out than we would have hoped. That means that for some of us, summer trips have already been cancelled or we are preparing for that to happen. Let me encourage you to at least begin to brainstorm about what this summer will look like if trips fall through.

Begin to come up with contingencies: think through what it would like for you to host a mission trip in your community, consider if there is a local camp you could host a retreat at, think about hosting a multi-church retreat in your town.

But planning ahead is more than just about trips, it is also about normal programming. Many of us have already changed how we do programming, but have you thought about the long term? Do you have a plan for if your group cannot gather through the summer? Planning ahead can add more to your plate and yes, in many ways it is hypothetical, but it is also prudent and necessary. Think through what programming could look like if our present state continues. Thinking through engagement, leader training, and ministering to families in light of our current circumstances is beneficial now and will help you build a stronger ministry going forward.

Set yourself and your ministry up well

Many ministries are trying to do all the things right now. They have started using all types of social media, they have started live streaming, they are hosting Zoom calls every day, they are constantly trying to be relevant, and honestly it is leading to exhaustion and burnout.

The reality is that right now you should scale your ministry carefully. You need to put together a plan that is sustainable and usable after you get back into “normal” programming. To scale up to a large level that isn’t something you can continue for the long haul is not productive. You can always scale up, but if you start big and have to reduce, people will lose trust in what you are doing. Start at a good rate and build off of that.

Remember your people

During this period and other times of uncertainty, just because our rhythms have changed or because our schedule allows for us to do more doesn’t mean everyone else can. Your volunteers are feeling overwhelmed and scared, some are working extra hours, others have lost jobs. Because of this, we cannot expect our people to do all the things. We cannot mandate that they do more than they were before or even the same amount as their lives and rhythms are drastically changing.

But this also means we should be intentional about connecting and communicating with our people. This will look different than it did when we all could gather together, but it could be as simple as calling someone instead of texting. Sending someone a personal card in the mail. Clearly explaining the plan and how you will get there. Remember to care well for them as they care well for your students.

Set boundaries

Feeling more tired than normal? Working extra hours? Don’t have a safe place to call home because home is now your work space? That is the case for many of us. With our ministries going remote, we have seen an uptick in how much we have to do. For many of us, we are still trying to manage a normal schedule on top of learning new things, teaching in new ways, and equipping our volunteers and families.

All that means we are feeling tired and overwhelmed, and we need to make sure that we are not being set up to fail. In order to do that you must set appropriate boundaries. Some of these boundaries could include continuing to have normal working hours, hosting meetings and gatherings when you normally would have, taking time off when you normally would have, making sure to still invest in your family, and continuing to care for your own soul and health. You need to be holistically healthy to run a ministry and care for others; make sure you are doing that and setting healthy rhythms in our new normal.

Be willing to adapt

Have things changed for you? Are you doing ministry in a way you never thought you would? Are you challenging students to be more digitally connected when before you were calling for them to disconnect from media? Life comes at you fast, doesn’t it?

We must be willing to adapt, change, and overcome. Life has changed for us, which means our rhythm of doing ministry has changed as well. We are not changing our mission but simply the way we go about fulfilling it. We must be willing to adapt in order to further the mission. You may need to move to an online structure, you may not be able to meet together, you may need to care for your people in new ways. That doesn’t mean we throw in the towel, but instead find new ways to continue in the mission God has called us to.

Don’t take things personally

Have you had a conversation with an exhausted volunteer who is stepping back because you want too much? Has a parent emailed you demanding to know your plan for the future? Have you had a store clerk yell at you or a delivery driver give you a dirty look?

Welcome to where our world is at. People are fearful, tired, anxious, and isolated. That means that people will respond poorly and at times lash out, especially at those they are looking to for answers. It isn’t right or deserved, but we must remember the fragile state of so many in our world. Don’t take these moments as a personal assault, but be willing to still love and care for people in the midst of everything that is happening.

Care for your people

As was stated above, people are scared, alone, and unsure. It is in times like these that we must make every effort to care well for our people. Send texts, make calls, offer services like dropping off a meal or dessert, be willing to pick up items for others when you go shopping, write a letter, or simply let people know you are praying for them.

We are great at caring for people when we are physically with them, now we need to do it when we are apart. This is where our people will see that we love and care for them, and it provides us a real opportunity to show Jesus and His love during a difficult time.

7 Tips for Setting a Phone Usage Policy

Technology is a game changer. Love it or hate it, it is here to stay, and the harsh reality is that it is becoming a greater part of our lives with each passing day. It isn’t lost on me that I write this on a computer, connected to WiFi, on a website I can literally access from anywhere on my phone, in order to connect with a wide range of people.

Technology is both a blessing and a curse, especially when it comes to ministry. Students love their tech and the tech they love the most is their phones. Students are streaming videos constantly, sending selfies and adding to streaks every couple of minutes, playing games, sharing memes, and finding their identity in and through their phone.

Have you noticed it at your youth group yet? Have you seen the student who claims to be using their Bible app but no one makes that face reading the Bible? Have you seen the student who is playing a game during your message? How about the student whose face is never unglued from their device? What do you do about it? How do you handle it?

I am no expert at this, but I have found ways to utilize technology and a lack of technology for the benefit of our students and our group overall. Here are some tips on how to handle this issue well.

1. Set a policy and stick to it

Policies will look different for each ministry, but the key is setting the policy and sticking to it. Some ministries don’t allow phones, others do. Some ask students to engage with their phones during the evening, others don’t. I know students will have their phones, but during our message time and small groups we ask our students to put them away because we provide notes, Scripture, and all that they need. It isn’t because we don’t like phones, but we want to help remove distractions during specific moments.

2. Have a policy for trips

This is important because depending on what type of trip you are on, phones may be necessary. When we take students to our denominational conference we are in a convention center in the city with thousands of other students. We know our students could be doing any number of things at the conference and we want to be able to communicate with them. Therefore, we allow them to have their phones. On shorter trips or mission trips we do not allow them as we want students to be intentional about building lasting relationships with one another and with Jesus. We communicate this to families well before each trip, and also give parents other means of contacting their students (like calling leader phones) if necessary.

3. Model the policy

This is a big thing. I have been on trips and retreats where there is a no phone policy for students but leaders are often seen on their phones. Students end up getting upset and frustrated because they were given a rule but the leaders seem to be above the law. When we tell students they can’t have phones, we explain that leaders will have theirs for emergencies and photos only. I make it very clear that leaders are not to be using phones in front of students unless it is for one of those reasons. That way leaders are following the rule and also intentionally connecting with their students.

4. Share your phone policy

I stated this briefly above, but whenever we go on trips we explain to parents and students what our phone policy is and why we have it. By sharing this with families it helps us all to be on the same page and it avoids any day-of conflict about having a phone on a trip. It is also important to communicate with families about your phone policies for your weekly programming. This could be done through an email, a newsletter, a social media post, or by hosting a parent meeting.

5. Utilize phones well

Some ministries allow phone usage more than others because it works in their context. If this is the case for your ministry, make sure to talk about how to use phones well in your setting. Talk about various apps students can and should use. In fact, a great resource would be to utilize the Bible App as a means for students to take notes during your messages. You can always use phones to take polls from students, have them text in questions, and interact with the media you are using. You can also look into developing an app that incorporates all of the above aspects and encourage your students to use this during your programming to help them stay engaged.

6. Cast vision for why you are disconnecting

If you are saying you are not allowing phones for weekly programming, a special event, or a trip, it is always good to discuss why. Families will often want to know if there is a specific reason for not having them, and what they need to do if there is an emergency. By sharing the vision and reason for disconnecting you will help parents to be on board with it.

7. Empower your leaders to speak into the moment

Often it isn’t every student who is on their phone, but a singular student or a smaller group. Instead of calling them out all the time in front of everyone, encourage their leaders to engage with them and find out why they are on their phone. Some kids hear better with additional stimuli. Others want to appear to be disengaged and cool. Others may not care or have never been mentored in how to listen and engage. The reality is we don’t know why they are on their phone until we engage and your leaders are the ones best suited for the job.

How do you deal with phone usage in your ministry? Is it something you encourage or discourage? What advice would you share with others about this topic?

How to Help Students set Technology Boundaries

True confessions: I love when I hear that parents are setting technology boundaries for their children. Not because I want kids to suffer, but because I know parents are thinking about the effects that technology use will have on their children, both short- and long-term.

However, the reality is this: not all parents set these boundaries. In fact, more times that I would like to admit, I’ve heard a parent say something like, “It’s my kid’s phone, I can’t take it away.” And rather than be the parent, they treat their child like an adult, and leave them to navigate technology on their own.

Here is the point when youth leaders (and kid min leaders) can step in and work to educate students on navigating technology use and setting their own boundaries. We can model healthy use, and explain the whys behind our suggested boundaries. And while you may think kids won’t listen (and you are right, some won’t), some will, and it will be worth the effort.

In my experience, all it takes is forced time away from a phone for some students to realize they really don’t need technology as much as they think they do. On virtually every trip I’ve helped to lead–from week-long mission trips to weekend retreats–we have told students to leave phones at home or we will collect them for the duration of the trip. At first, students are upset, but a few days in and I’ve always heard a comment that went something like this: “I’m really glad you took away our phones; I really don’t miss mine at all.” Sometimes a forced break is all it takes for a student to realize the world outside of technology is amazing and filled with unique opportunities they won’t get on social media.

So how do we as youth leaders help students (and parents) set healthy technology boundaries? I think we start by not only suggesting certain boundaries, but explaining why they matter. Below I have listed a few of my top suggestions, and I would love to hear yours! Feel free to leave them in the comments, or tweet me @MrsEliseMance.

Set specific “no technology” hours.

The best thing students can do, especially if they struggle to get off screens, is to set specific times to be off their phone and technology in general. A key time to do this is at night, when lights and notifications can disrupt sleep. I recommend leaving the phone somewhere other than their bedroom and using something else for their alarm (like an actual alarm clock, or asking a parent to wake them up). If they use their phone for their alarm, they should put their phone on a “do not disturb” setting, which will keep notifications from popping up, but still allow an alarm to sound. They shouldn’t sleep with their phone in their bed.

Another key time for a “no technology” boundary is whenever they’re spending time with others. This sounds like a lot, but think of the last time you tried to have a conversation with someone who was on their phone. Or better yet, the last time you were on your phone when someone was trying to talk to you. It’s virtually impossible to do both, and you miss out on a lot by not being present in the moment. This may be stretching, but even starting small (like at meals, when out with friends, when they first get home from school) will help.

Besides needing rest and practicing the art of face-to-face interaction, time off of technology can help protect students from negative and hurtful influences. When people my age and older got home from school, we had a natural barrier from drama at school and bullies. Now, bullies and drama follow students everywhere thanks to social media. Sometimes enforcing time off screens can help protect students’ mental health and give them a break from negative voices.

If a student needs help setting these types of boundaries and they use an iPhone, they can set restrictions for themselves under Settings > Screen Time. There are options to schedule downtime, set app limits, and set content restrictions. Plus under “Screen Time,” you can see how much average time you spend on your phone and what you’ve been doing.

Limit who you interact with.

The sad reality is predators use technology to find and lure young people. This has been an issue since the advent of the internet, and any medium where one person can communicate with another can be used by predators (including gaming networks, social media apps, and video sharing sites). It’s devastating how many stories of missing young people include a detail that they “had been chatting with an adult they met online.” We don’t need to scare students, but we do need to make them aware that strangers online can be just as dangerous as strangers in “real life.”

I encourage students to only communicate with people they have first met offline, people they know and their family knows. And even then, if the person is bringing up topics they don’t want to or know they shouldn’t talk about, they should stop communicating with that individual and inform an adult they trust. Not only can predators attempt to lure children, but some sites share locations, which can make students easy to find. The best thing for students to do is keep their profiles/accounts private, turn off location services, and only communicate with their friends and trusted adults.

Carefully consider what you share.

It’s okay to be yourself on social media, I don’t list this recommendation to encourage students to be fake. But I do think they need to exercise wisdom in what they decide to share. People always like to quip, “Nothing posted online ever goes away,” but it’s true. Even apps that claim to make your content disappear will save it on their servers, or other people can screen-shot and save it. In addition, your online presence sends a message about who you are and what you believe. That message can point people to Jesus, or it can be self-absorbed and self-serving.

Students can ask themselves a few questions before deciding to post or share content with others, and look for positive alternatives if needed.

  • Does this post/content honor Jesus and represent my relationship with him? (Every post doesn’t have to be overtly religious, but it does need to reflect my identity as a Christ-follower.) If not, don’t post it. Instead, share something that points to God’s glory and the place He has in your life.
  • Would I be embarrassed if this post/content were made public forever for everyone to see? If so, don’t post it. Instead, share something that the world could see and know that you’re a child of God.
  • Am I looking for attention or affirmation from people and using this content to get it? If so, don’t post it. Instead, spend some time reflecting on the attention and affirmation God gives you and share truth out of that.
  • Is this post/content hurtful or slanderous toward myself or someone else? If so, don’t post it. Instead, share things that uplift others and yourself.

I encourage students to carefully critique their content. Again, not to perpetuate the idea that they need to carefully craft their online persona, but to remind them that what they share does matter. It is as much a part of their spiritual journey and witness for Jesus as their conversion story.

These are just a few tips to get the conversation going around technology and help students think critically about what they are doing. For some students, they may need more specific guidance and accountability, but this is only something you will know after beginning these conversations with them. So I encourage you, start those conversations. Ask the hard questions, and don’t forget to explain why something matters.