Formulating an Online Strategy for College Ministry: Part 5–How Twitter Can Catalyze Your Ministry

Despite some of the bad press recently regarding Twitter, I still must say that I absolutely love it. Sure there are days when things take way too long to load, or they don’t load at all. But despite all that, Twitter is still the first site that I log onto when I get on the internet in the morning. What other site is going to instantly bring me up to date with what everyone in my network (friends, family, co-workers, etc) is doing?

For a great step by step primer on Twitter, check out Matt Singley’s post.

Check out Twitter in Plain English series below:

Those are some great resources on Twitter. And in fact, lots of people are writing about Twitter so it’s not hard to find online some effective ways to use it. So what I want to focus on in this post is just a few ways how you can effectively use Twitter in your ministry…or as I say above, how it can catalyze your ministry.

Three Reasons to Use Twitter in Your Ministry

  1. Humanizes the Leaders (i.e. pastors, directors, volunteers, etc.) and places them in a more vulnerable position of leadership. Not everyone will agree with me here, but I’m one who subscribes to Henri Nouwen’s vision of the vulnerable leader: “I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self.” -In the Name of Jesus, 1989. Twitter in a way does this, because your students get insight into your everyday life, not just what you present to them in person one day a week. Of course, Twitter is only as vulnerable as you want to make it, so if you offer little up about yourself, then why should they check it out. I think it’s fascinating to get insight into certain figures, and I think it gives students a chance to see you are human. Do you post private stuff? No. Do you “bleed” all over your audience, sharing every little detail? No. You must be discerning in this. But I think it’s a great contact point between you and your students.
  2. Allows Leaders to See What is Going On with the students in their ministry. As a leader in the ministry you can log on each morning and see what your students are up to. You may see something that you need to pray about. You may see something that concerns you and spurs a conversation. You may see something that makes you laugh. You may see that a student is just down the block and may take that opportunity to go meet up with them. It just may give you some connecting points and information about your students that you may not have had before. When point one and two are used effectively, there is a great reciprocity in ministry between the leaders and students.
  3. As a Catalyst to bring people together, especially in a moment’s notice. This is a really important and useful point. Let me give you a few examples of how it has worked for me, and how I would have liked to use it.
  • One day I was eating a burger with a student at The Counter down in Santa Monica. I sent out a Twitter, simply saying, “Eating with a student at The Counter in Santa Monica.” Within about 10-15 minutes, two other students, and one co-worker sent me text messages saying they were in the area and wanted to know if we could meet up. That story has been repeated a lot and is one way that it is really effective.
  • Okay, so let’s play this out in some practical ways how you might use this as the leader in a ministry. I did not do this because by the time the idea came to me I was on my way out of my former ministry. If I was going into the 2008-2009 school year I would like to try this out with the college ministry. 1) Set-Up an account for your ministry. For example, I was the director of The Quest. So I would create an account/profile with the name The Quest. 2) I would ask the students in our ministry to “follow The Quest.” Not only “follow The Quest”, but make sure that anyone follwing The Quest received updates to their phone. 3) Give log-in access to the leaders in your ministry (choose 3-4 leaders to oversee this). 4) As the director, use your cell phone as the phone to enter Twitter messages via cell text. It doesn’t have to be you, but may be the easiest. 5) Anytime you want to get out important information to your students, or rally them at the last minute, use Twitter to send out a message to them. Now since they agree to receive your ministry’s messages to their phone, use it accordingly, as it can get annoying to receive phone texts from Twitter all day, and some students may not have unlimited text messages and your Twitters may end up costing them.
  • So what does this look like: Some of the leaders are hanging out in Westwood, CA at UCLA. They decide, lets get as many students to come meet us for ice cream right now. So the leader sends out the Twitter, “In Westwood right now; meet us @ Diddy Riese in next 30 mins and will buy ice cream.” Within 30 minutes I guarantee you will have a large number of students show up.
  • How else could you do something like this in ministry? You could call the students whose numbers you have, send out emails a day ahead of time. Try texting as many as you can as long as you have their cell. It’s just not easy and practical, but Twitter has changed that.

Try this experiment out, and let me know how it works. I would love to hear about it, and have you share your story.

Formulating an Online Strategy for College Ministry

DISCLAIMERS: 1)There are better technical people out there concerning the web. 2) Do as I suggest, not as I do. I’m trying to keep up myself, and our college website reflects almost nothing of what I talk about. That’s how fast things change. 3) There are a lot of college ministries out there, and there are a lot of online tools to use, but it doesn’t seem like many are thinking through how to best utilize the new media and Web 2.0 (and yikes, Web 3.0) in their groups. 4) Knowing that things change overnight in technology, I hope to somehow impart to you some of the things I have been learning and wrestling with in these areas. You don’t need to be an expert in this area, just know enough to think critically about the issue. 5) If you have feedback, suggestions, criticisms, please comment. This is by no means all encompassing.

13 Comments

  1. by Mike Winters on June 17, 2008  1:15 am Reply

    From reason #2...

    "You may see something that concerns you and spurs a conversation."

    Sounds a bit parental, almost like you're checking up on students to make sure they're behaving, or keeping tabs on them if any trouble arises. Is this the role of the web-savvy college leader? How can a leader avoid being seen as a judgemental eye online (where many young people don't seem to mind posting a bit too much!), and instead be like any other "friend".

    Not passing judgement, just posing questions.

  2. by Rhett on June 17, 2008  1:28 am Reply

    Mike,

    Good question to pose. I think that the natural course of being online in community is that there is a certain sense of accountability that is created. So one is not looking for, or trying to confront others, but it just sort of happens. If I were in person with people and I saw things that concerned me, I might need to have a conversation with that person. As you know (or maybe don't know) there were lots of conversations I had to have with students over seven years. So I think when we are online, sometimes that stuff carries over.

    Part of the problem is that we think our online lives are, or should be different than our in person lives...but that shouldn't be...I think.

    I don't go out trying to judge others online(and I know you aren't saying that), but I just think that if we are in online community together...it is just a natural course that we should keep each other accountable...have conversations about things.

    But even though it came out parental...I really see it more as an opportunity to see what your students are up to and have a deeper understanding of who you work with...not to be Big Brother.

    Rambling now...good question though.

    rhett

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  11. by Nathan on August 26, 2009  2:33 pm Reply

    This is excellent! I will forward this along to the youth pastor at our church. Another point is that Twitter/Facebook/My Space can promote an inclusive attitude; anyone can follow or be your friend and all can feel a part of your 'normal' life without the social barriers that in person invitations can sometime carry.

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