Youth Minister: “Hey Jan. We missed you at youth group the other night. What were you up to?If your youth group is anything like the one I help with then you have probably had a conversation similar to the one above with one of the youth group teens, and I assume your reaction was similar to my own lament when I discovered that today’s teens aren’t using email like my generation does. Whether giving up email is a folly of the youth who don’t recognize the usefulness of email or a product of their own youthful wisdom remains to be determined. Whether, not giving up email is the stubbornness of the earlier generations or it is the tested wisdom from practical experience is yet to be determined. However, one thing is certain: Parents and ‘old people’ use email to communicate, and teens use text messages.
Jan: “I didn’t know where were having it this week.”
Youth Minister: “Didn’t you get my email reminder?”
Jan: “I don’t really use my email.”
Youth Minister: “Don’t use your email? Then what do you use? How do you stay in tough with your friends?”
Jan: “We text message.”
The main draw back that kept my church from taking advantage of using text messaging lied in two areas: cost and texting multiple users. At 10 cents a message, texting the entire youth group could get costly. Plus texting the entire youth group at one go from one cell phone was not a reality. I looked into a number of free texting services, software and websites, but most were inadequate and only allowed a text message to be sent to one number at a time. The pay sites offered more features such as a phone number data base and the ability to send one message to everyone in your data base; however, the pay sites cost money.
I had given up trying to use text messages in ministry until the recent episode of thecatholicunderground (episode 74) where the cast introduced its listeners to twitter. For those not familiar with twitter, it is a small free online application that people use to answer the question “What are you doing now?” The activity that twitter provides is sometimes referred to as micro-blogging as the twitter application only allows for 140 characters per message. So what does this have to do with ministry?
Fr. Ryan Humphries of thecatholicunderground pointed out that a person can use twitter to keep in touch with large groups of people via free text messaging and suggested using it in youth ministry to send out reminders to teens. This is how it is accomplished using twitter.
- Create a twitter account for your ministry or youth group at the twitter website.
- Activate your cell phone for use with twitter. Don’t worry, no one will see your number. This is purely for activation purposes only. This is equally good because if you were worried about giving your cell number to your youth group teens you need not be concerned. No phone numbers are exchanged. The teens won’t know your number, and you won’t know their numbers.
- Tell your teens about it. Each teen will have to make their own twitter account, activate their cell phone for use with twitter, and then send a text message to twitter letting twitter know that they want to ‘follow’ your ministry’s twitter. Maybe you can make it in to a youth night. Call it something like "Can you see God's face on MySpace?" and talk about responsible use of media and technology. Challenge all your teens to sign up to the youth group's twitter feed. If your church has a couple of computers that can be moved around, maybe the teens can sign up at the meeting.
- Now every time you update your ministry’s twitter with a new message (say a reminder about youth group this week, the service project planned for the weekend, or maybe a bible verse) a text message will be sent to all the users who have subscribed to follow your ministry’s twitter via their cell phone.