Young people, social media, and the church
If Facebook were a human being, in 2020 it would be eligible to get its Learner Driver’s permit.
It is long past its awkward first dates and is well on the way to knowing what it wants to do when it grows up. It has faced challenges and experienced more than a few of its own missteps, not least of which have led to broken relationships or tense moments with friends and loved ones, and it seems to speak an entirely different language to that which anyone over the age of 35 is used to.
Just as many in the church acknowledge their limited understanding of “young people” so too they look at the ubiquitous social media behemoth and address it in the same way with a generous mix of wonder, confusion and bewilderment.
How can we as a church expect to connect with members of our emerging generations if we refuse to engage with them in the places they develop vibrant and life-giving relationships?
How can we grow and develop our young people if we do not seek to leverage networks like Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and TikTok and use them as a part of their faith formation?
Do not misunderstand: Social media will not “save” the church.
A unique opportunity
What these various networks offer us are a unique and intimate opportunity to connect with a vast collection of people under 35 and offer us additional pathways to invest in them so they know they are vital, valuable, and loved.
In Barna’s recent report “The Connected Generation: How Christian Leaders Can Strengthen Faith & Well-Being Among 18-35 Year-Olds” (2019) the statistics for young Australians are damning:
- 67 percent of young people feel isolated and uncared for;
- 70 percent are dissatisfied with their life choices; and
- Only 30 percent feel as though someone believes in them.
These numbers become even more diabolical when we filter them through a lens that is focused on LGBTIQA+ young people.
For us to live out the call of our ancestors to express our faith as a pilgrim people always on the way we must take seriously the significant rise in mental health diagnoses in our young people. Our pastoral response to care for them as much as our call for justice in support of them with regard to services and government assistance must be seen and heard within the communities we inhabit.
Whether it’s online or face to face for members of our emerging generations relationships matter. Like really matter. Especially the intergenerational relationships that often are only found within communities of faith.
These relationships can be birthed out of and continued through investment in positive and appropriate online connections that for young people are as transparent as their in real life interactions, and they flip between the digital and offline as if breathing in and out. A kind word of encouragement, a well-placed like, a video message of congratulations are all as important as turning up to a young person’s Awards Night and applauding when they are honoured for their hard work, or cheering them on from the sidelines at a key match in their chosen sport’s round of fixtures.
The opportunity presented to us is to involve ourselves in God’s deep work already in place in the lives of young people.
We can help them understand that Jesus died that they might experience a life of community, of satisfaction, and of empowerment because people know them and love them for who they are. In this way, our young people might know they can experience life in all its fullness (John 10:10).
A tangible opportunity
Congregations afraid of ‘ageing-out’ are faced with a real and tangible opportunity to engage in growth within their community by connecting with the Pulse team and taking part in a Growing Young consultation. This process is designed to help ministry agents, church councils and congregations connect with a new way of thinking about ministry with emerging generations and what it looks like in their explicit context right now. It’s bold, challenging, and can transform an entire congregation’s approach to connecting and communicating with people under 35.
Contact Karen, Joyce, Ofa, or myself in the Pulse team today – we’d love to connect with you and your congregation in this powerful opportunity to grow God’s church.
Steve Molkentin is a Senior Field Officer for Pulse. He can be contacted at SteveM@nswact.uca.org.au.