In response to the shutting down of our face-to-face ministry, a lot of us pivoted online to continue gathering.
This meant some significant challenges in transforming during this unprecedented time.
Blergh. Those words.
I recently presented to an online gathering of youth workers and leaders around the nature of online community. I offered a consolidation of some of my learnings working as a 20 year IT professional, with 10 years experience in social media, and covering my work as the Digital Youth Discipleship Project Officer in Qld and now working with the PULSE team.
When we think about online community, it’s best to think about how we approach work in this area using my four C’s:
We must remain Child Safe in all our engagements, especially online. While guidelines are thin on the ground here it’s helpful to stay connected to what the National Safe Church team are doing, and especially with the Safe Ministry with Children team in our Synod.
All leaders must have active Working with Children Checks, and they must be on the register at your church. Especially if they are engaging in ministry with young people online.
It’s also important to be aware of engagement with young people online to ensure it doesn’t present them or your leaders with a compromising or unsafe situation. Our young people are too important.
How do you interact with the young people in your care? Do their parents/carers know how you will interact with them online, and how do you include them in that? Firing off an email might be a simple way to do that, however it is OK to address that email TO everyone (so everyone can see all the email addresses) or should you put all the addresses in the BCC field (so nobody can see who it has been sent to)? These are all serious considerations when dealing with young people and their private, personal contact information.
When you consider what social networks do you use it’s important to connect with networks that your young people are involved in AND that allows you to be transparent in your communications. Things like SnapChat where the messages disappear doesn’t provide any clarity or transparency after the fact.
It’s important your communication with young people is age appropriate. Don’t encourage young people under 13 to have a social media account. Be open with their parents/carers and outline how you will communicate with their young people so that they know – and can be included should they want to be.
Kid’s Club, Youth group or your Young Adult ministry cannot only be an entertainment maxim – on or offline. There are far too many competing options, so while there are fun things to engage in, perhaps part of the group time can be used to talk about the issues that come from online life? What does it mean to have your mental health affected by online comments? How do you deal with cyber-bullying.
It’s critical that discipleship/faith formation remains central to these ministry opportunities, so perhaps using the bible app’s reading plans can gather your group around a common discussion and devotion focus.
You can tell the health of a community by the theological rigour of that community.
What works for them will not always work for you, so consider the mission aspect of your online ministry. Also, it’s super important to engage in age-approproiate methods and tools, and in doing so talk about how faith sharing can happen on those platforms.
Young people are always watching, so your example of a lived faith online and offline is more important than ever.
When we engage in online or face-to-face community, especially with young people, it’s important to remember that community is everything. It’s how we shape ourselves, learn to respond to and care for others, and develop a sense of who God is.
Molk is the Senior Field Officer (North), and responsible for young adult ministry as a part of the PULSE team.