FIRST-PERSON: Want to reach young people? Better be on Facebook
BARRE, Vt. (BP) -- The Facebook post popped up on my screen. It was a young adult friend who needed to talk about some things going on in his life. We talked via instant message for a while and then later that evening we chatted by phone. We talked through his immediate crisis and I reminded him of the role his faith should play in his life. The Lord used that conversation to help him find the strength to endure that temporary crisis and refocus on other more positive aspects of his life.
Less than a week later, I had a similar Facebook conversation with another young man going through his own difficult experience, which resulted in us getting together the next day and meeting face to face. And less than 48 hours after that, a young lady needed a listening ear as well, so we talked through Facebook and through text messaging for most of the evening until she was able to sort through her issue.
Though I am not a professional counselor, such discussions with young people in crisis happen quite often in my life and they almost always begin with a Facebook post or a text message.
Though I suspect there are many reasons why young people contact me when they are having a bad day, I think one of the main reasons is that I am accessible to them via the technology that they are most comfortable with. Long ago I decided to embrace Facebook and other social media as a medium for ministering to others. Though it was uncomfortable for me at first -- I prefer a face-to-face discussion -- I have found that many young adults prefer to discuss what is going on in their lives through electronic media.
Perhaps they feel it would be difficult to talk about such those things face to face. But behind the safety of their computer screens and smart phones, they let down their guard and share what is going on in their world. Though I seldom have "easy answers" for them (because I am not a trained counselor and also because I do not think easy answers exist for many issues), I do have a listening ear and know how to pray earnestly. I will often meet with them in my office or at McDonald's for lunch or for a soda to follow up on whatever we talked about electronically. They seem much more comfortable talking in person after they have already had an initial conversation about their situation via some social media.
Though this kind of ministry is relatively new and is still evolving, I think we need more of it if we hope to connect with the next generation. Social media is how they communicate. They ask each other out on dates through instant messages and then break off significant relationships with a simple text message. They tell intimate details about their lives on Facebook and invite anonymous people to ask them questions on Formspring. Social media is a communication method that they are comfortable with.
Christian leaders who want to minister to this age group would do well to learn how to use these tools. It opens up a whole new world of pastoral counseling, and though it takes some getting used to, it can be used effectively.
Terry Dorsett is director of the Green Mountain Baptist Association and the author of "Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church." For information, visit VermontBaptist.org. Visit his blog at TerryDorsett.com.