Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Twitter, Text Messaging, and Youth Ministry

Youth Minister: “Hey Jan. We missed you at youth group the other night. What were you up to?
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.”
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.

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.

  1. Create a twitter account for your ministry or youth group at the twitter website.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Bam! That’s it. It is simple, easy to use, and it is free.


Jeff Miller said...

Plus there is a good community of Catholic bloggers and Podcasters already on Twitter.

Melissa said...

Twitter is a great way to stay connected with the people in your youth group or church. There are many web 2.0 tools that you can use to strengthen your community such as twitter, facebook, tumblr, flickr, vlogs, wikis, etc. We can help you create or strengthen your community through collaboration.

Check us out ...

Matthew Penn said...

you might want to check out http://www.jabbertext.com. We've built this site specifically for youth group text messaging. matt

Unknown said...

I have concerns about getting teens involved in Twitter, It encourages them to keep everyone they know or somewhat know that use twitter what they are doing throughout the day ... I worry that this might open doors for stalkers or obsessed relationships to go down the wrong road.

Paul Cat said...

Sadly Lee, there seems to be few things today that do not have a negative side to it.

Also, you aren't encouraging the teens to use Twitter to update everyone else on what they are doing. In fact, many of the teens won't want to update everyone on what they are doing. Further, you are just encouraging them to sign up the the feed that allows you to text them updates.

gavin richardson said...

i have a few teens who have signed up for twitter, but most don't care.

we use txtsignal.com for our texting services which with our group size (over 150+) we have the full package, but 20 bucks a month for just about unlimited everything works well for me.

tatango.com gives free group txting with an ad attached to it (you can approve the ad, control mechanism)

the big group txting though is done through emails generally so you have to get everyone to plug in their cell service provider. that's an easier thing than to get everyone on twitter.

i might also suggest doing a retweetbot (http://www.retweetbot.com) which is a more specialized sharing through twitter

Stephen Trainer said...

We have used both Simply Txt and Duffled.com, details on both at http://wp.me/p1iF9w-1C

Artem said...

There is also another good youth group messaging service that we use with our youth group of about 180 members. It's called Telefio. You can check it out at www.telefio.com . We have been using it for a few years now and it's pretty affordable. I think there is a free account too.

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