Like it or not, follow it or not, social media is here to stay. For now. From new platforms to cyberbullying to ministry opportunities to smartphone addiction, social media use impacts teens and their families every day. How do you navigate something that seems essential and risky, necessary and a cause for concern?
- First, focus on the good that social media can do.
- Second, intentionally jump into the right conversations on social media.
- Third, leverage social media to capture the attention of teens.
Focus on the good: The potential and power of social media.
The Pew Research Center has recorded social media usage and statistics since 2005. In data published April 9, 2019, they report that:
- 73% of people 18 and over in the United States use YouTube
- 69% of people 18 and over in the United States use Facebook
- 37% of people 18 and over in the United States use Instagram
- 73% of the people who use Snapchat are between the ages of 18 and 24
- 23% of the people who use WhatsApp are between the ages of 18 and 24
- 21% of the people who use Reddit are between the ages of 18 and 24
In other words, all adults are on social media and young adults are on it very often. This means that social media can provide an audience for your message. If you have a positive message, it has the potential to reach people through these platforms.
Consider this: if these staggering statistics are true (and they are), no matter who you want to reach, you can reach them on the internet. Using social media is a way of contextualizing the gospel, or inhabiting the real world that people live in. In 1 Corinthians 9:22, the apostle Paul explained that “. . . I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Social media is a means that you can use to preach the gospel.
Social media is social: Join the party and preach the message.
Screen time and time spent on social media is a sore spot for some parents. Social media addiction is a real condition that has a higher impact on teen users and can lead to mental health issues. If a teen is using the internet to escape, or replacing a real life with a virtual one, that is a distinct issue that requires outside help. Many people, however, are simply compulsive (not addictive) social media users.
For instance, many people check their phones before they get out of bed or first thing each morning. Many people are on at least two or three social media outlets before breakfast. Some people check their email 20-30 times a day. Even at BigStuf, we clocked in average (not minimal) personal screen time. The question is: what are you consuming on these channels? What is social media filling your mind and heart with, and is it valuable? And, if there is not valuable content out there, do believers have a responsibility to fill a vacuum or void with truth?
One report explains that, in 2018, more than 500 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. The amount of content that is available, regardless of its quality, is mind-blowing. So, what do Christians do? Do we say, this party is questionable, a “gray” area, and we aren’t taking a chance? Or do we go to the party and preach the Good News to people in darkness? And that’s where we turn to the opportunity: how can social media be used for the good of teens and the glory of God?
Leverage social media to speak truth to teens.
If you know where your audience is and that they need your message, the obvious answer is to go to them and speak the truth. If teens are on social media, being bombarded with lies and a false worldview, let’s take the platforms over. Stewarding our voice in digital spaces is part of our Christian witness in this day and age. Instead of being afraid to touch it with a ten foot pole, let’s thoughtfully craft content that gets delivered to the right people at the right time. Here are some ways you can leverage social media to speak truth:
- Blog or Vlog: create a strategy to regularly populate a blog or vlog (or both!) with good, relevant content. Build your following by cross-posting it on all of your social channels.
- Be present as a person on social media: this means, have profiles and attend to them. Don’t obsess over likes, comments or follows but offer authentic messages about what you are reading, thinking about or just straight scripture.
- Convert your messages to a podcast or YouTube channel: if you regularly teach or present content, there are simple apps that can convert either audio or video files so they can be posted as podcasts or YouTube videos.
What you don’t want to do is see this as a “drop in the ocean” (which it is). What you want is to catch a God-inspired, God-sized vision for how you can make a difference in the lives of people by living out your testimony in a digital world.
Share this with your community and to hear your thoughts in the comments below!