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Email is old-school: Three better ideas for communicating with teens

Kids don’t use email to communicate with each other anymore. Although adults have finally caught on and businesses aren’t sure how to function without it anymore, generally speaking, students have already moved past email. Most kids have an address, but a lot of them don’t check it very often because they don’t like email. To teens, email is filled with a lot of junk. There’s spam, marketers, phishers, scams, authorities, adults, random forwards, and most importantly, there’s no friends there. It’s also too slow. They want communication that’s like hitting the “Fire” button when playing a video game. So they don’t want email anymore.

The primary way kids communicate now is by:

  • PM (Private Message on social networking sites)
  • SMS (Short Messaging Service, a.k.a text message)
  • IM (Instant Messenger)

These have become the primary means of peer-to-peer communication because they’re seen as having less junk and are a lot faster.

Unfortunately, a lot of youth workers still use mass email messages as their primary means of sharing news and announcements with their youth group kids. If that works for your group, great! Keep it up! If it’s not, and you’re beginning to feel a little frustrated with email, here are a couple ideas about how to be where the kids are in each of these three areas.

Private Messaging
FacebookLast spring my wife called a couple youth group girls and invited them to come over and help make some fundraiser posters. Unfortunately she got no response because no one was home nor where they answering their cell phones. So she went on Facebook and sent the girls a private message instead. Within an hour and a half, every girl responded to her PM and showed up at our house.

The easiest way to send a private message to all your youth group kids on Facebook is to create a “group” for your youth group and invite them all to join it. It’s not that hard. Just login to Facebook and click on Groups in the left mini-sidebar. In the upper-left of the screen you’ll see a button titled, Create a New Group. Click it, fill out the group info, upload your youth group logo, and select the kids you’ve already added as friends to be invited to join the group. It becomes a great centralized place for your group to stay in touch throughout the week, a place for you to create event sign-ups, post pictures, videos and especially be able to send a mass private message to everyone in the group. When looking at the group page, under your logo you’ll see a link titled, Message All Members. Click it, type up whatever you need to share and then send it off.

Text Messaging
Text messagingSending mass text messages to everyone in your youth group is great because it gives you instant contact with everyone. If you need to cancel a meeting at the last minute or ask the kids to wear old clothes for a messy game an hour before it starts, there’s no way sending out an email is going to reach everyone in time, but a mass text message will take care of it for you instantly. I’ve already recently blogged about this, but basically TxtSignal.com is the way to go just because it’s so simple and easy to use for everyone involved. Plus, ministries are eligible to use this promo code and receive a discount on the monthly cost: EH7DH.

Instant Messenger
AOL IMWhen kids are online, they often check the away messages of friends who aren’t at the computer. I know I do! So I created a screen name that remains online all the time and post youth group news and announcements in the away message. In it I include links for more information to our website and frequently run contests for prizes. For example, at the bottom of the away message, after they’ve skimmed through all the youth group news, there’s a link to a movie audio clip. The first person to IM me correctly identifying the movie gets a big one pound chocolate bar at church on Sunday. Or, I link to an obscure picture I took of something at church. The first person to IM me with the correct answer gets a free iTunes download.


Posted on November 8, 2007

  • Isn’t that the truth. Even with some of my adult staff, Facebook is the preferred method of communication. It’s a new day!

  • Good post – it is so true, I hardly ever will get a response from kids via e-mail. Facebook is the way to go. A lot of the kids I work with use MSN Live Messenger though not AIM, but I have AIM, Yahoo, & MSN for my volunteers and other youth pastors.

  • It seems that what IM students use is somewhat regional. I recommend a program that supports multiple protocols: AIM, gtalk, MSN, ICQ, etc… Pigdin and Trillian are good programs, and meebo.com is a decent online interface.

  • Tim

    Yeah, I noticed that, too, Luke. In TX everyone used AIM, but here in MN everyone uses MSN. *shrugs* I use a multiple-IM program called Adium for Mac. It’s slick.

  • oh ok yea I think I've seen the "Gift This Music" button before. I thought you could gift a song download, where they could choose any song and download it.

    Thanks for the explanation.

  • I just ask the winner what song they want and I gift it for them. :)

  • How do you give away an iTunes download?
    Is this like buying a song as a gift in iTunes or do the kids actually get iTunes credit so they choose the song themself?

  • To gift a song in iTunes, go to the album that contains the song you’d like to gift. From this album page, click “Gift This Music,” and you will be presented with a green gifting page. On this page, select “Gift Song” next to the song you’d like to give. On the following page, choose how you would like your gift to be delivered (email or gift certificate that you can print out on your own computer), recipient name and message. On the final page, confirm your gift and click “Buy Gift” to purchase.

  • Pingback: Internet tools I use in ministry (4 of 6): Facebook | Life in Student Ministry()

  • Guy

    Great post,Tim. Amazing how much changes so quickly.

    It’s definitely tricky keeping up an effective comm-link with today’s youth. Perhaps the greatest tool I have at my disposal in working communication with our youth is my Blackberry. SMS, Facebook, IM, email… Every one of these used in keeping in touch with them.A portable office, with no need for a secretary to answer calls and take messages. I don’t think I even use use my Berry as a phone anymore- it’s pointless.

    Definitely the most effective method here in N.W. GA is texting. I can call and call and maybe raise one or two responses- if they answer. But, if I text, even some of the youth that didn’t answer my call will instantly reply! Go figure!

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