Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Reason Your Youth Ministry Needs to Be On TikTok

*8/1/20 EDIT*: TikTok has recently come under fire and may face restrictions or banning within the United States. Yet even with the current chain of events, the message of the below article can still find relevancy in both today and tomorrow's culture. Just as we see in Luke 15:3-7, Jesus challenges us to pursue the lost sheep. If that lost sheep is hurt or in a dangerous location, we shepherds bravely move to rescue the sheep, even if it means that we place ourselves in a less-than-ideal scenario. If our youth are finding themselves on a social media app that is deemed "dangerous," do we leave them behind, or do we pursue them? Whether it's TikTok or the next app that has questionable privacy policies, The Great Commission still pierces our hearts and challenges us to seek out the lost, wherever they may be residing.

With the digital landscape of youth ministry constantly shifting at lightning fast speed, it can become hard to determine where we can focus our time and energy in a manner that allows us to keep up with our students. We quickly fall behind on the latest memes and hashtags, only to arrive at the moment that the newest social media trend begins. But what about social media platforms? Does your youth ministry currently utilize social media to engage your students (especially during Covid-19)? Let’s unpack this further and explore why it is now time to seriously consider creating a youth ministry account for TikTok.

Gen Z and Social Media
YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok are the three primary social media platforms for Gen Z in the year of 2020. It’s no surprise that YouTube remains a top competitor, for any individual that arrives at an internet video these days is likely to be watching content that is hosted by the website giant. However, this social media platform is typically one-directional, where content is posted and interaction is restricted to the comments section of the posted video. Snapchat remains to be an excellent direct messaging app, however discernment is required whenever using an app to message students directly (Since our discussion here is catered more toward engaging students as groups, this post will not be addressing the use and/or cautionary recommendations of using Snapchat). Finally, while TikTok is a relatively new contender to the realm of social media, it has quickly identified itself as the primary platform that next gen students are using to explore their digital world.

What to Keep, What to Scrap
Are you as surprised as I was on how fast Gen Z has shifted within social media platform use? Here are four free graphs that are downloadable from research company Statista, which show age group mapped across the usage of four popular platforms: Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.

Does this mean that youth pastors should discontinue using Facebook? To Gen Z, Facebook (upper right graph) is essentially a dead platform. A youth ministry that has no Facebook presence today would likely receive few complaints. What is a surprising observation, however, is that Instagram (lower left graph) is now showing a strikingly similar trend. While the platform still holds a strong following among Millennials, the shockingly steep gap between Gen Z and Millennial usage of the Instagram platform speaks volumes. Does this mean that your youth ministry should discontinue use of Instagram? Not necessarily. Even though Gen Z is not on Instagram, posting your youth ministry content to this platform will remain to be an excellent way to keep in touch with parents of students for the next five to ten years.

Why TikTok?
So does this mean that youth pastors and youth leaders need to be on TikTok? Unless something occurs to drastically change these metrics in the near future, the data currently says yes. After all, why would a fisherman go to waters where there are no fish? It wouldn’t make sense in that scenario, and neither does it here for your youth ministry. If your church is attempting to reach the lost and is striving to spread the gospel to a wider audience of students, then Instagram is not where they are. And even if your students have an Instagram account, they are likely checking it at the end of the evening when they are already tired from spending two (or more) hours scrolling through their other social media platforms. Jesus deserves better. The Good News is content that is worthy of their feeds, and your youth ministry is called to be a part of a student’s prime hours of screen time.

Where there is opportunity for the Gospel to be shared, we are called to go as apostles and evangelists. We must go where the people are, and our youth are no exception. Yes, learning new social platforms is challenging and can be frustrating. But if we refuse to establish a presence where our youth spend a large amount of their time, we are allowing Jesus to be placed on the back-burner of a student’s life when we do not adopt new and innovative technology. We must not neglect this principle now during Covid-19 or in fact during any other time, lest we sentence ourselves to continuously preach into the digital echo chambers of dying social media platforms.

Let's Connect! Follow on Twitter: @SeanBuono

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