This is a presentation I made last month at the East County Youth Workers Network meeting. Maybe it’ll be helpful to you.
Here’s some of the content that goes with it.
With the rapid adoption of smart phones, iPad, and hundreds of thousands of cheap/flexible apps being developed, I am quickly seeing youth workers realize that they can do more on the go than ever before.
My prediction is that we will begin to see more and more youth workers go officeless in the next five years.
For years we have lamented that we didn’t go into youth ministry to be a desk jockey. Finally, the technology is there (and affordable) to the point where we can be in the field full-time, working with teenagers where they are.
This stuff isn’t going to go away. So rather than whine about the impact of media, I recommend going on the offensive and doing our best to educate parents and students on best practices of a digital life.
- Technologies that take off for students are really all about them and their life. From an adult perspective that sounds entirely selfish. (Because it is self-centered) But we need to remember that adolescents are developmentally limited to only think about life from their perspective. So when talking to students about technology, bear this in mind. Teach them things that will make them look good.
- Trend-wise, I’m still seeing tons of activity amongst students on Facebook. At the same time, text messaging is infinitely more private and infinitely move mobile-friendly. So texting is still king. But I’m also starting to see pockets of students taking to Twitter. They aren’t using it in the way adults are though. They tend to have tight-knit clusters of friends who all have private accounts. For them, it’s a group texting service.
- Lastly, it’s important to realize that students are students… they are still learning. Which means you need to teach them what to do and why. There’s been a lot of talk about sexting, I think a big reason it is getting so many people in trouble is simply ignorance about how digital files can go viral and how something so innocent and sweet can do a lot of damage to you for a long time. Yes, I said “sweet.” I think a lot of guys/girls are exchanging pictures to flirt. They just don’t have the same boundaries you or I do.
- Technology is not bad. By it’s definition, it is neutral. It’s what you do with it that makes it good or bad.
- This stuff isn’t going away. You don’t have to be an expert to be a good parent. But you can’t pretend it’s not there any more than your parents pretended they didn’t know what to do with your beeper.
- I’m not a big fan of filtering the internet. I really feel like that creates a false sense of security for parents. And if you ask any kid over about 10 years old, they know how to disable the filters at school. I’d rather see parents focused on teaching good practices like only using computers/smart phones in public areas of the house.
- There’s an assumption that if you don’t know more about the technology your children are using that you can’t teach them how to use it appropriately. That’s just not true.
Let’s turn from technology use to how you can use technology to become more a productive youth worker.
If you want to ditch your office, you’ll need to transition to cloud-based applications. All that means is that your data no longer lives on a single computer in your office or on your laptop, instead it is stored in a web-server and is accessible anywhere you have web access, on multiple devices. (Phone, laptop, even a guest computer with an internet browser.)
Here are some cloud-based tools I’m using right now that make me more mobile:
- Evernote – A note-taking app that syncs with all of my devices. I’ll never say “ugh, that Word doc is funky” ever again.
- Springpad – This also has a note-taking feature. But I use Springpad for bookmarking web-content I want to come back to later. (Here’s my account) This is also amazingly helpful for event planning, meal planning, shopping lists, etc. It’s HTML5 based, which is just nerd-speak to say that it’s built to work with any web-enabled device and isn’t limited to iPhone or Android on the mobile side.
- Dropbox – I store all of my important files on Dropbox. It allows me to not only access them from anywhere, it also makes it super easy to share. Dropbox is great if you have multiple people working on a worship service or something like that. Everyone can just save their work in the same folder and everyone can continually have access to the same stuff. I never use our work server anymore. Everything is on Dropbox.
- Google docs – The original big player in the cloud-based app world. I use Google docs for any document I’m going to collaborate with others on. It has all of the same features as Microsoft office, except it lives in the cloud, is free, and you can add multiple authors in a jiffy.
Larger ministries tend to move quickly into a project management mode. This just means that one person isn’t responsible for an entire project… they have to collaborate with multiple people. Most of my work at Youth Specialties and McLane Creative is tracked through project management software in an attempt to keep all of the knowledge out of our email system!
Here’s three that I’ve used.
- Basecamp – This is the gold-standard project management utility. It has lots of deep features, is mobile-friendly, and if you are working with outside contractors there is a good chance they are familiar with how to use it. Everyone uses it! The downside is that it isn’t free.
- Google groups – Google groups has many of the same features as Basecamp. It has just never taken off in the project management world. I don’t really know why. You can use it in much the same way, and it’s free.
- Collabtive – I use Collabtive at McLane Creative for project management. It’s very similar to Basecamp, is free (open source) and lives on my webserver. That said, it’s not a novice utility to administrate. So if you don’t have someone confident with PHP, mySQL, and available space on a webserver, it won’t work for you.
Last but not least, here are some other service worth looking at to improve your communication with parents, students, and your team.
- Groupme – Groupme is a free, group-based, text messaging service. I’ve used it a little and really like it. Essentially, you just add people to a group, the group is assigned a phone number, and people can text the groups number and instantly notify everyone else in the group. The upside is that it’s free and full of potential. The downside is that it’s “reply to all.” If you wanted to try this out I’d recommend trying it with your adult volunteer group first. It could get crazy with a large group of students… fast!
- Google voice – This is basically an alternative to giving your students your phone number to text. Google voice is 100% free, has a mobile and web interface, and works great. Another cool use for this for youth workers would be that it’s pretty easy to share responsibilities for responding to texts with your team.
- Tatango / SimplyTXT – Both of these are fine if you are looking for more of a professional grade group texting service. Both are great and both cost money.
Other online communication apps for youth workers
- Facebook groups – Groups recently got an overhaul. There are some cool features there for you. It’s basically a profile for your ministry. The upside is that there’s a high likelihood all of your students are already on Facebook a lot and familiar with it.
- Mailchimp – Email is not dead. Mailchimp is the industry leader in email marketing. What I love about Mailchimp is that it isn’t just an amazing application… it’s free for lists under 2,000! (Which would be nearly every youth group in America!)