If we could just learn how social media works, we could stop the decline in the churches, reach our young people, and save the world!
OK, well, that is what it seems like people are saying. I have some thoughts that I'd like to share. Social media will not be the saving grace of the church. Let me say it again. Social media will not be the saving grace of the church. It is a tool, definitely, but learning how to maneuver will not do what we hope it will do.
What do we want from social media? We want young people. The answer to the graying of the church is the bringing in of blondes, brunnettes, and red-headed young people. How do we bring them in? We must reach them!! How do we reach them? Through social media! Oh, wait. No. That is how we will reach a segment of that population. It is not, however, the way they will be kept. And it completely misses the mark of the teenage generation.
Who am I and what am I talking about? I am a mom of two teenagers. They eschew connecting to church communities via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. They talk to each other via text. They drop into the other places occasionally, but they speak the language of texting. It is the one safe place they have that is free of adult interference. And ultimately, that is what teenagers want. A free space away from adults where they can become individuated people. And it is a good thing.
So then, how do we reach these teenagers? I have one word for you: relationship. People may be attracted to a blog, but relationship keeps them. Tweets may be catchy, but genuine loving kindness attracts. Build programs that are authentic, speak to the needs of youth in a space beyond post-modernism (yes, really), but most of all, build a safe-container where youth can speak their deepest spiritual questions and feel loved, accepted, and held.
I am also a woman who works with incarcerated youth. The youth in prison don't even know what twitter is. So we are missing the most of the demographic of people who have challenging socio-economic conditions. We were doing a study on Acts in the detention center and I asked the kids how they would be an advertising campaign for the Holy Spirit in today's world. TV was their only solution. Not blogs, not Facebook, not MySpace, not anything else. They have three things: TV, texting, and word of mouth. Hmm. The early church grew by word of mouth. I wonder what that can teach us!
So the take home message? We should master technology as a communication aid. But it won'd do the heavy lifting of creating safe, accepting communities and relationships that value listening and loving to whatever questions youth have to offer.