By Blake Davis
The number one need in any church is communication. We need to communicate the Gospel to the lost, spiritual depth to the saved, and how we as a church body are pursuing those goals together. In response, the number one complaint about the church is a lack of communication. The reason is because people don’t live in the church, they live in the world. And the world is pulling them in so many directions that the church now needs to meet them all over the map. Some people still need paper mail coming to their house on a regular basis. Some need email as part of their morning routine. Some people need texts they can access at any time. And still others live on social media. The problem for church staff is how to effectively communicate and meet people where they are without sacrificing what God has called us to do. This is a balancing act worthy of the circus. I am, by no means, an expert. However, after 20+ years in student ministry, I have been bruised enough to learn from my mistakes and see how to effectively build a communication network that won’t bankrupt the church or deplete all of the staff’s time.
Step One: Collect student contact data
If your church database looks anything like the ones I have seen over the years, you have mailing addresses for the adults… and that’s about it. Students, particularly those whose families are not regular attenders, are often no more than a face in your mind. Here are a couple simple options to gather their information.
1) On a night when a lot of students show up, play a game for a candy bar/Coke. Put your cell phone ringer on silent. Tell them you are going to put your personal number on the screen. The seventh person to text you their name wins (don’t go with the first so people keep texting even after they see you look). Put your phone number up and say, “GO!” Now you have all their phone numbers. Be sure to spend the next morning turning all of those into contacts in your phone AND creating a spreadsheet on your computer for future access. (I suggest on the company line in you phone contact, list the student’s graduation year. Easy way to pull up everyone in a certain grade in one quick contact search.)
2) Tell (project for) them your Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram on another big night (not the same night as #1 so you get more interaction with them). Social media differs from area to area, so use whatever your students use. If you are uncomfortable giving out your personal link (or if you church has a rule against it) create one for the student ministry to give out. You can give other leadership access to the page for accountability. Tell them that the next morning at 7:30AM you will be giving out a clue for where something is hidden. (A good idea is using something like a poker chip so anyone not playing will ignore it as useless, but it is plastic so it won’t get ruined by weather.) Give a new clue each day until someone shows up with it. It might go fast, and it might go slow, but you will have all of their pages. Along with the clue, post that you will be posting on there for important future info about the youth ministry.
Step Two: Collect parent contact data
Let’s be honest… you can tell a student something 20 times and it never make it to mom or dad. And all too often, you don’t get a lot of face time with parents unless they are volunteers in the youth ministry.
1) Permission forms. Although getting signed forms is one of the most difficult parts of our ministry, we live in a society that requires nothing less. So let’s use these forms for our benefit. Make sure on the form is a spot for parent’s home number and cell number. Then, instead of filing these forms away into the ‘hope we never need them’ folder, input that data into a spreadsheet for yourself. At the same time, put them in your phone. You never know when a student hasn’t shown up yet and it would be a lot easier to call them from a number already in your phone than going thru the permission forms. (I suggest in the company line of their contact, list their child’s name(s). Easy way to search in case in the moment you can’t remember mom/dad’s name.)
2) Social media. Although students have pretty much left Facebook behind (and are letting go of Twitter just as fast) parents LIVE HERE. On your personal page and on the church page, post a parent reminder to follow your student page about once a month (you are being trolled… they will see it). Also tell your volunteers to share the student page about once a month as well (just not all at the same moment so people don’t feel it was forced, even though it was.)
Step Three: Use snail mail & email
Don’t give up sending out actual mail. Some people respond really well to a postcard on the fridge, but anymore, not many. Limit letters to 4-6 per year for big events. Postcards are best. A formal letter on letterhead is going to go in the junk mail every time. Use bold colors and minimal text. Be sure to include your phone number and the student ministry Facebook/Twitter pages. I put that information small on the front of the postcard below their address so the whole of the back can be just about the event. For emails, I suggest sending the image from your postcard. This allows them to see it when they want to open it.
Step Four: Use text messages
Not everyone is big on texting. When you set this up, a lot of people will back out, but it gets you those who live there. Not to be all ‘platform heavy,’ but my top two texting platforms are the RemindMe and GroupMe apps. Both require the users to download the app for full use, which they will be prompted to download when you set it up. RemindMe is a favorite of teachers. It allows you to message your people without anyone else seeing their responses but you. The drawback is not being a able to create events where people can see who is/isn’t going. GroupMe gives you the easy event planning, but shows everyone every response. Although I use GroupMe, I let them know when it is initially setup to only reply directly to me, not the whole group. Although people can click if they are going to an event, it isn’t a registration software, so direct them to your church website to access registration. Once it is set up… text them about once a week. Keep them short, but informative. They aren’t looking for a joke here, just the facts.
Step Five: Use social media
Again, which platform you use is based on your people. If you can afford it, Hootsuite© uses your area demographics and can help you schedule your posts for peak viewing times. I start with all the platforms I can and allow my people’s responses to show me where I should focus. Just as with texting, try to limit your posts to 1-2 per week. You don’t want to overload them. This might increase around certain events, but do your best to not overdo it or they will begin to ignore your posts. The biggest thing to watch out for here is accountability: private conversations can lead you down a dark path. If people try to start them, quickly post to the whole group “So and so asked if… and I thought it would be good for all of us to know the answer…” Keep the posts engaging. Just the facts will bore them into ignoring the posts too. Being excited about the post… all caps a word or two… say something funny. Try, “Big Weekend is only TWO WEEKS away! Have you signed up yet?!?!? I know how ‘cool and original’ it is to sign up at the last second, but mom and dad would REALLY enjoy saving $10 by signing up early.”
Remember to encourage your students, parents and volunteers to share the posts. Not every post, but here and there. This causes them to pay attention to the posts, and get the info in front of people outside of your sphere of influence.
About the Author:
Blake Davis has been a family and student pastor for over 2 decades. He is passionate about declaring the Gospel and purposeful, inter-generational discipleship. He has a Bachelors in Religion from Oklahoma Baptist University and a Masters in Christian Education from Southwestern Baptist Theo. Seminary. His first ministry is his favorite ministry, to his wife, Mandy, and his kids, Elaina and Elijah.