How the Internet Changes Student Ministry

Jeremy —  October 12, 2010 — Leave a comment

I confess that I still haven’t seen the movie about facebook written by one of my favorite scriptwriters Aaron Sorkin.  I have read several reviews, and was struck by Lawrence Lessig’s insight into what amounts to a fundamental shift that has been created by the internet.  This shift has a lot to teach us about our students and our ministry.

Lessig explains that the movie missed the whole point and magic of Zuckerberg’s story.  He says, “what’s important here is that Zuckerberg’s genius could be embraced by half-a-billion people within six years of its first being launched, without (and here is the critical bit) asking permission of anyone.”  I agree.  As a person who spent his adolescence in a world where the internet was just beginning to take shape, I am constantly surprised by the total lack of limits (both good and bad) that the internet provides.

I have seen this first hand (tough not nearly as lucratively as Zuckerberg!).  I have a personal blog where I post thoughts on faith, ministry, and the future of the church.  It has regular visitors from 23 countries!   I’m just some punk youth pastor sitting on a chair at home drinking sweet tea!  I love writing it, but never thought I would have that type of audience when I started posting on it years ago.

What this means for our students is that they live in a world where they do not have to get corporate financing, a publishing contract, or a record deal to make a serious attempt at their dreams.

I think that is something that we MUST capitalize on as youth ministers.  I don’t mean having a blog or a Facebook page, but helping set youth free to do something about their faith.  Instead of encouraging them to engage in the 1950s passive learner model of sitting and listening every time we get them together, we need to be giving them the kind of permission with their faith that the internet gives them.  We need to be giving them permission to fulfill Jesus’ dream of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

I think the key to getting those students engaged is to follow the lessons from the internet:

  1. Start small and close to free.  What can you and your friends do in your spare time to make a difference?
  2. Make it social.  A cople of people working together have much more insight and potential than a lone ranger.
  3. Release the beta.  Launch sooner than later.  If it is overwhelming, make it smaller.  If something non-essential is going to delay the launch, do it later.
  4. Remind them that when Jesus gives the Great Commission in Matthew, he is both asking us to go, and giving us authority to go… just like the internet.
  5. Allow comments.  Find ways to get other people to tell you how you are doing, and what you could do better.
  6. Tap into a social network.  Students have a limited network on their own, but when they have adults on the team, they  have access to a much broader network of people and resources than they did on their own.

These are a few.  I know there are more.  Instead of resisting the internet’s no-limit posture, let’s funnel that power into the true hope for the hopeless.

Jeremy

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Jeremy Steele has been working in youth ministry for the past fifteen years and now serves as the Next Generation Minister at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. He writes for Group Magazine, RETHINK Church and various publications and organizations. You can find a link to all the places he contributes on his website at JeremyWords.com.