Later this month I’m speaking at the National Youth Ministry Conference on this very topic. It also came up at MinistryQuestions.com as “Best form of communication.” Here’s a quick summary of how I communicate with my parents and teens in my youth group during the week, including my method of evaluating each one’s effectiveness. Some of the results may be more surprising than you think.
NOTE: The findings below are from my own youth group only. Every youth group and every area of the country will have different results. It’s important that you test your methods with your group and not just adopt my own because what works for my kids may not work with yours.
From worst to best:
6. Mass Facebook messages
Primary Audience: High school students
It surprised me to find that mass Facebook messages are absolutely the worst form of communication I have with my kids. I have a typical Facebook group set up and every week I send an update out of information that pertains mostly to high school kids even though almost every single one of them are active there. I try to keep the messages brief, to-the-point, and very skimmable thinking that would help kids actually get the information they need. However, I wanted to track how many kids were actually opening the messages, so I started sending just the main headings of the announcements and included a link to more details on our website. I found that the click-through rate was about 2%.
I used a self-hosted URL shortner scripture called Get Shorty to track the number of times my links were clicked, but you could just as easily use something like bit.ly, too, which is what I use for Twitter, actually.
If only 2% of the kids actually click the link in Facebook to get the info they want, that method is pretty much worthless for us.
5. Mass email
Primary Audience: Parents
Most kids here don’t use email, so this is mostly for the few kids who do use it and all the parents. When I write up our weekly youth group news and announcements, I publish it to the front page of our youth group website and shortly thereafter a service called Feedblitz automatically sends it as an email to everyone on the mailing list.
Fortunately, Feedblitz has some tracking tools that show that the open rate of my emails are about 20%. I know that sounds good compared to the Facebook messages, but that still means that 80% of the parents are not even opening my weekly email messages! And of the 20% that actually open the email (either accidentally or on purpose), an even smaller number of them actually click through anything to get more information.
So, email doesn’t seem to be a great solution for us either.
4. Bulletin insert/Youth kiosk
Primary Audience: Church visitors
Since every newcomer to our church services takes a bulletin, we include a youth group news insert that gives an overview that pertains mostly to someone who is a first-time visitor and wants to know more about the youth ministry.
We also have a youth kiosk right outside the main doors of our Worship Center (sanctuary) with more handouts and serves as the hub of our information center at church. That’s where we keep handouts, flyers, contact forms, sign-up sheets, and more. It also has that week’s youth group news video playing in a loop (see below). See a picture of it here.
Unfortunately, there’s no real way to track the effectiveness of bulletin inserts or our youth kiosk, but using them is very low maintenance, so we continue to use them anyway. The insert is mostly a tweaked copy and paste of the email update I posted to our website earlier that week, so it’s not a lot of extra work.
Primary Audience: Parents and jr. high
Not really sure why the high school kids don’t seem to utilize our website too much, but regardless, they don’t.
Our site’s traffic statistics show that the site is getting over 100 visitors and about 1,500 page loads every day. That means that the average visitor clicks through approximately 15 pages on the site before leaving. That’s very high click- through rate for any website! (This blog, by contrast, gets about 2 clicks from each visitor.) People are definitely visiting our site and looking for information there. In fact, whenever there’s a typo or an incorrect calendar date, we hear about it pretty quickly.
(If you’re looking to start a website for your ministry, check out MinistryWebsites.biz and support the on-going work of Life In Student Ministry.)
2. Video announcements
Priamry Audience: Parents, high school and jr. high
Last year I started experimenting with communicating youth group news and announcements through video and made a couple observations:
- If I stood in front of the kids and made an announcement, most of them tune out. However, if I say the exact same thing on a screen, they all listen intently.
- Plugging videos into iTunes makes it simple for kids to sync them to their iPods to watch whenever they want.
- Adding more value to the videos than just news makes it a highlight of youth group for some kids.
- There’s a reason why YouTube and online video is so huge with teens — let’s utilize it!
I blogged about it in more detail here and even gave you a step-by-step tutorial on how I make my weekly videos. Yes, it takes more time than writing a simple email, but if it actually communicates, then it’s worth the time.
The statistics for each video’s views and downloads at YouTube, Blip.tv, and Facebook (although, we can’t track Facebook stats) equals a lot more than the number of kids we have in our youth ministry, which probably means that kids are watching the episodes several times each week and that their parents are watching them, too. In fact, I often hear from people in our community who don’t even attend our church but watch our youth group videos online! So, our message definitely spreads farther via video than any other communication method we have. (Hint: get some of your youth group kids in the video, tag them in it when you post it to Facebook, and it shows up in a lot of their friends’ feed, making it easy to use video to communicate with many more kids than just your youth group.)
For kids who don’t have high-speed Internet at home, I also show the video each week at youth group if there is time for it.
1. Mass text messages
Primary Audience: High school kids
Text messaging is by far our #1 most effective means of communication. Last summer I shared several ideas for using text messaging in youth ministry, so check that out for more details.
I use TxtSignal.com to send mass text messages out at pretty random times, usually as last-minute reminders or event cancelations, but I also love doing contents, asking for feedback, and sharing ideas through it, too. Just last week the kids had a snow day off from school, so I sent a message to everyone saying, “The first 3 people to reply to this message get a free lunch with me and Dana today. We’ll pick you up at 12:30 PM.” Within minutes my reply box in TxtSignal was lit up (which was good for my self-esteem, too!).
The only limitation with text messaging is that I must be very concise, and that not every kid or parent in our group has text messaging available. But for the ones that do have it, it is hands-down the best communication method we have. Fast, quick communication with instant responses.
How about you?
What works best for your group? How have you evaluated it and tracked it’s effectiveness?
Posted on February 17, 2009