Do you use Prezi or PowerPoint? Do you allow students to use their iphones as Bibles? Do you communicate with your volunteers and parents via Facebook, text or email? None of these questions were relevant five years ago, but today they certainly are. The use of technology in preteen ministry is a given. As you prepare lessons and communicate with parents, volunteers and peers, you use Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, cmconnect, your favorite Bible apps, YouTube, and perhaps Instagram, Flicker, Tumblr, or Kik. Five years from now, these will be obsolete, replaced by technology we can’t imagine.
Here are some things we’ve learned about the use of technology.
- Use what works for you, your parents and volunteers. We were ready to start a Facebook account for our parents, but when we surveyed them, they politely asked us to stick with our weekly eblast. They didn’t want to have yet another place to check for info. We know other ministries for whom email is the least effective medium, because their parents are very connected to Facebook. Ask what’s best for your audience; then, follow their wishes.
- Don’t be afraid of technology, but maintain a healthy respect for it. Yes, there are many downfalls of technology. There are also some great upsides. If you don’t understand some aspects of technology, find someone who does and learn from them. Let your students explain it to you.
- Make sure you’re using technology for the right reasons. Don’t do it to show off or draw attention to yourself. Do use it to draw students, parents and volunteers closer to Christ. Don’t shut it down, because you don’t have it or don’t want to use it. Don’t use it to boost your personal morale by having friends you don’t know or because someone told you to use it. Do use it to grab students’ attention and communicate effectively with your volunteers and parents. Do use it to point to Jesus and tell everyone in the most effective way possible about Him.
- One of preteen parents’ biggest concerns is how to deal with their son or daughter’s entry into social media. They’re scared to death of what lies ahead. You can help them so much by giving them guidance in this area.
Here are some questions we think are important to ask and consider when thinking about the use of technology in preteen ministry. Being completely honest as you answer these questions will be helpful as you consider the ramifications of your technology use.
Why are you using each of the different facets of technology? (video, game stations, Facebook, Twitter) Are you using them as a tool or a crutch? Are you setting a good example?
What are you potentially opening kids up to? Are you helping kids by talking about Facebook when they’re not supposed to be there yet? Are you encouraging healthy habits on their computers, iphones, ipads, and gaming stations?
How are you preparing your students, parents and volunteers? Are you helping them understand the responsible use of their technologies or assuming they already know what they’re doing? Are you offering opportunities for parents and students to learn how to think about the different technologies? Can you help parents think about parameters and safeguards that will help them guide and protect their students?
How much do you know about the technologies your students and volunteers are using? What accounts do they have? Where are they going with them? There are huge temptations out there. Are you talking with your volunteers about their habits?
How are you helping your preteens, parents and volunteers develop a “Jesus filter” so that no matter what they’re faced with, they’re prepared to make wise choices? This is the most important question. Facebook, Google and Tumblr are popular today. By the time our students start college, these will all be replaced, most likely, with something very different. The most important thing we can do is help our preteens learn to find their self-esteem, their deepest friendship and their ultimate accountability in Jesus. If preteens (as well as their parents and our volunteers) are looking to Jesus for these things, they’ll make wise choices when it comes to their use of technology or whatever form they come in contact with next year and ten years from now.
The second most important question is aimed at you. What’s your inventory at the end of the day to make sure you made responsible choices? How much time did you spend on Facebook or Twitter? Was it for the right reasons? One of the pastors I respect most called our staff together regularly to make sure we were keeping our minds and hearts pure. He reminded us that a sheep goes astray one nibble at a time. We’re just like those sheep. We may start with just a few extra minutes on our favorite computer game or looking through Instagram photos of kids who were in our ministry just a year or two ago. No real harm here, right? But, what’s the next nibble? Satan will tempt us only in nibbles. Set boundaries for yourself and have others hold you accountable. Ask your volunteers to do the same.
Technology has opened amazing doors in ministry. We can use it to communicate better, wow students, bring our lessons to life, and make our ministry so much more efficient. There are so many tools that can help parents and students fall in love with Jesus and then go deep with Him. Let’s covenant to use all of our technology as instruments to turn everyone to Jesus.
Aaron DeLay and Heather Dunn minister as part of a team to preteens in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Heather is part of fourfivesix and Aaron does his best to keep Heather appraised of the latest technology. There is nothing they love more than their preteens—except Jesus, of course!