Social Networks have been one of the greatest things to happen to college ministry. There are many reasons why I have found them to be so helpful, but let’s begin with a video primer, because I know some of you, though familiar with social networks, may wonder their exact purpose or how they function. For that I turn to the awesome video series Social Networking in Plain English by Common Craft

I believe that it’s important to have your college ministry in a social network, and that that network should act as your central hub. There are several reasons for that as I want to discuss further with you.

Why Social Networks as the Central Hub: A Few Repetitive Thoughts

  • It’s where they are at: This is one of the most important reasons. You need to go where your student are at (Facebook, MySpace, etc.). Don’t expect to build a website or some other forum and draw them away from their large networks.
  • No other web tool can connect as many college students together in your ministry as does a social network tool/platform: You can put together an email list, create a website, but nothing brings everyone to one spot as does your ministry network. Since they are already on these sites, it’s much easier for them to join your group and for everyone to connect.
  • It’s the most effective, and easiest way to stay connected and in touch with as many students in your ministry as possible: With messaging tools, online walls and forums, networks are the easiest way to connect with your students.
  • No other tool will allow you to get a view into their daily lives: Where else are you going to get a view into their daily lives but on their network? You can see what photos or music they have uploaded. When their birthday is. What activities they did over the weekend. Etc.
  • It’s one of the most effective ways to communicate: As the leader of the group can you tell me another tool that is as effective in communicating with your students? How many times have you sent out emails and the list hasn’t been updated, or emails are returned, etc.
  • It’s self-maintained to a large degree: As the leader of the ministry you are not responsible for all the content. You can provide a basic framework, calendar, etc. But it’s the community that provides the commentary, photos, music, etc. And it’s the community that decides when to join or when to leave a group. So you aren’t sending out email messages to people who have left the group years ago, etc.

The Central Hub

By having your social network as the central hub of your college ministry you create the best scenario to provide and disseminate information. For example, students often don’t go to a church’s website, or your college ministry’s website. But if you use your social network (i.e. Facebook, MySpace) as your central hub you can direct them there when necessary. On our college ministry Facebook page we provide the calendar, lecionnary and other tools for the college ministry. And then we provide links to our church website, etc. So if students need it, it is there.

Students most often come to a ministry and check it out through word of mouth. Their friends in their dorm room and classrooms tell them about it and invite them. More often than not they aren’t doing a Google search for a college ministry to attend. So as a ministry, you need to set your ministry’s “front door” in the best viable location….which is the online community they populate. Here they have the best chance to see what their friends are up to and to get connected to your ministry. This also happens in person, but what happens in person is more than likely shared online that same day. So it’s a win-win.

By maintaining your social network as the central hub, you also provide the opportunity through your college ministry’s profile page to create a community. Everyone who is a part of the profile gets a look into everyone else’s life in the ministry. So for example, Emily who doesn’t really know Joe in the ministry will see that he has a birthday today. So Emily can wish Joe happy birthday on Joe’s Wall or in a message. This makes way for a connection to made, where it may have not had the opportunity to be made before. How would Emily know it was Joe’s birthday otherwise if she isn’t friends with him?

It’s about providing connections for those in your ministry. And by keeping your social network as the central hub you have the best opportunity to create a connected ministry that won’t only stay connected online, but that will spill over into the face to face encounters. I see this happen all the time in our ministry.

A College Pastor’s Dream

Social networking sites are a dream for someone who oversees a college ministry. Sure, there are some downsides to them (i.e. too much information; drunk photos, etc.), but overall I think the benefits way out weight the negatives. One of the problems I have come across through the years was how to stay in touch with college students. Maintaining an up-to-date database via email and Excel spreadsheets was nearly impossible.

But now I have been able to create alumni pages for our college ministry, as well as our current college ministry, and I have been able to stay in touch with hundreds and hundreds of students that I never would have been able to before.

My Top Reasons for Using Social Networks in Ministry

  1. Removes the Pastor as the Central Figure of Authority and Flow of Information: Not everyone likes this, but I think it’s a good thing. Keeps ministry from being built around a pastor figure; and in the process keeps ego and people pleasing tendencies at bay.

  2. Connect: You to students; students to students; a window into everyone’s lives.

  3. Communicate: Via messaging, forums, walls, etc.

  4. Create Events: Using calendars, invites, etc.

  5. Gathering Place: Often the 1st place people visit online and congregate.

  6. Database: You can create alumni groups; have emails handy, etc.

Some Social Network You Can Use

  • Facebook: Everyone is familiar with Facebook. It’s the most popular.

  • MySpace: Most ministries have moved off MySpace because of spam, ads, and college students are more likely to be on Facebook.

  • Ning: create your own social network. I did this with the college ministry social network Collective Muse. It’s a lot more work since you oversee all aspects of the network (you and what other admins you have). Anglimergent has done a great job using Ning as their social network platform.

  • ROOV: I think this is a great social network to gather your ministry around what they are passionate about and to get them connected with others with the same passions.

What do you think about social networks?

Why do you use them?

Are they helpful?

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.