Guidelines for youth pastors texting students

Youth pastors texting teenagersSeveral weeks ago a youth worker sent me a link to this article, “What Should Your Ministry Know about Youth Texting Exposures?” He asked for my opinion of it and if I have anything in place regarding leader-to-student texting. It seemed to make sense to him to have something in place, but he wasn’t sure if the approach in this article was overboard or not.

As a general rule of thumb, I don’t let my ministry be crippled by the fear of what could happen. I take prudent precautions, of course, but there’s a limit where you’ll soon have no contact with kids at all and they start to feel like you’re afraid of them.

I text my kids. I usually only text girls to ask a quick question, but I don’t have on-going discussions with them even they initiate the text conversation. I’ll gladly reply and answer questions, but I don’t prolong the smalltalk (and infrequent), “So how was your day?” texts from girls. I’d rather see that conversation take place with a female youth leader.

As far as guys are concerned, I’ve never had a need to place guidelines on those conversations yet. I’m sure there are some teenage guys out there that would require a youth leader to lay down some restrictions, though.

My advice: Do what you feel is right for your ministry rather than crippling your ministry with the fear of what could happen, but be prudent and wise at the same time.

If your ministry requires some accountability in your texting with students, consider using I’ve used them for years and absolutely love their service! One of their features, called Message Stream, allows you to send individual text messages to people. When your recipient responds, it goes through TxtSignal’s service and is then (optionally) forwarded to your phone. When you reply, it again goes through TxtSignal and is then delivered to the recipient’s phone. If you take advantage of this feature, it allows TxtSignal to keep a record of your conversation with these specific people. If there’s ever a question about your texting with a student in the future, you can go back and check the original transcripts.

Question: What guidelines, if any, do you have for texting students? Share with all of us how your ministry handles this in the comments below.

Posted on August 2, 2010

  • My "guidelines" are basically the same as yours; although, I never really thought about it. Essentially, all I use texting for is to share news or ask quick questions. Conversations or discussions take place on the phone or in person, and those with girls are also highly encouraged to happen with a female leader (or if not possible, we'll be in a public location).

  • The one thing I do with texting or email girls (a piece of advice given to me by another youth pastor) is to say "we" instead of "I." It's always "We missed you last week" versus "I missed you last week." It helps keep perspective and distance without just putting a complete stop to communication. And it works out well because my wife is also a youth leader, so she's included in the conversation, too.

    • That's quality advice… Speaking with the corporate voice not only helps protect you from inadvertently leading a female student on in some way, it also just sounds more professional.

    • Yeah, that's good advice. I guess I do that without even realizing it, unless it's a direct question. Then I'll answer "I don't know" instead of "We don't know" or something like that.

    • Good one… I've used that before too without thinking about it too much.

      -Marshall Jones Jr.

  • Texting is a big deal these days and alot of the students in our church have phones with texting only. I usually just send mass text to all of the students and parents. But there are those times that they just randomly send text about random things. My wife works with me in the ministry and she gets to handle most of the girl issues, which I and very thankful for.
    I think there is a fine line between building relationships and protecting yourself. Both of them are necessary in the ministry! Awesome blog and comments, thanks guys!

  • One of the bonuses that I unexpectedly got when I went from Android to Blackberry (please no flaming, ATT was/is still catching up in the Android offerings) is the ability to:

    1. Back up everything with 1 click, including texts.
    2. Set up Messaging Groups.

  • We have been using TxtSignal for the past few years as well. The Message Stream feature is great and does provide accountability if there is ever a question. I love using it to text students because when it goes out it's not marked as being from my phone but rather from out student ministry. The reason I like that is because when the recipient receives it they know it's from the ministry and not necessarily a personal text.

    Of course my students have my number and text me quite often. Although I do use TxtSignal alot for it's accountability students always know they can reach me outside of it.

    • eric

      I am using the trial now. Can you help me? Does this work from your phone txt or just from the computer? It looks as if it only logs txt that are sent from the computer. Maybe I am missing something. Appreciate any help. thx

      • seiralYP

        Eric you can only text form your comp right now. However they did add a feature that now whenever a students replies to the one sent from the comp it can come straight to your phone and you can respond to them from there. I like the doing it through the comp because you can schedule texts when they are supposed to go out. It's pretty slick.

  • gimmefive

    We had to draft an entire policy on this. Re: we reach out to hundreds of teenagers in our community, most of which receive text messages from us. However, there are a couple of hypersensitive parents who don't think we should be texting at all (they see us as a public school teacher type relationship where teachers should not be texting kids) so to avoid any issues, we had to implement a new policy with one key item: parents permission. Parents sign forms that says they give permission for us to text their child. Extreme? yes but it is working in our situation and provides accountability

    • Sounds like a good plan. Parental permission is always a good thing. :)

      • Yeah, I don't think you can ever really go wrong with parental permission!

  • Very good article – thanks! We use the group text message service from a couple times each week for promoting our weekly events. But with almost 100% of my students on Facebook, I find my self texting individual kids less and less these days.

    Maybe I'm getting old! I like to use a real keyboard! :)

  • Tim,

    See my Above comment.

    – Back up your text logs (depends on phone) to help prevent out of context misunderstandings.
    – use group texts whenever possible ( I really like that feature in Blackberry OS)
    – ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS double check the receiver of the text before you hit send. I inadvertently send a text intended for my wife to an 8th Grade Guy in my youth ministry (thankfully it was G rated…) . It was a little embarrassing though…

  • There are so many fears over interacting with youth through technological forms of communication like text, email, social networks, but not so much around the traditional forms of communication like letters and phone calls. In ways this is a justified fear as we see how people exploit others through these mediums, but these communication tools can be used safely and successfully. This all said it is important to keep a record of anything exchanged via technological means due to misunderstandings and misinterpretations that so easily happen. It's important to meet kids where they're at and to build relationships with them, but safeguarding ourselves and them is crucial to building good relationships not only with our young people, but also with their families. As a part of this parents need to be aware that you are communicating with their teenager through text/email/social networks etc.

    I like the rule of thumb you give here and the boundaries you've set, especially seeing as it's what I do, except for I apply the rule about no on-going discussions to both girls and guys. Perhaps it's because I'm a woman and girls can get chatty on text, and guys while they can also be chatty can perhaps get the wrong idea too. If something is worth having a long conversation about, meet up and talk about it.

    In our ministry we mostly use text as an announcement or reminder tool, and often share verses of scripture with different groups in preparation for Bible studies. We also use social networking sites like twitter or facebook to do the same.

    The rule of thumb for any communication with teens through these sites is to post publicly, if there is a need to directly message a young person we advise that another leader is copied in on it, while bearing in mind again that if it's worth having a long conversation about, it's better to meet up and discuss.

  • i really encourage youth pastors who already utilize the 'beast', Google, in their church ministry context to look at Google Voice. it's actually kind of a kool way to make your personal cell phone a work phone. basically, Google gives you a platform to receive calls and texts on your personal cell phone without you having to give out your personal cell phone number (which has very limited accountability or access to records). GV then keeps a digital record of whatever conversations you have in the same way emails show up in your inbox. did i mention that, like Google always is, it's FREE?! yup. free.

    how do i use it?
    i simply point everybody to that GV number (which looks like any normal number complete with my same area code), so now i have a copy of every text a student sends me along with records of texts i send or calls i make or receive. plus, if somebody leaves me a voicemail, i can listen to it through my computer. as you can tell, i find great use for it because it's simple and good as a safeguard. i at least feel better that if any parent or leadership staff has any question as to what i'm texting Billie-Jo about, i can show them as plain as day. some people fear accountability. i embrace it.

    how do i get started?
    do i recommend having a separate google account? maybe. you can use your personal one if you so choose. it's up to you and how you want to answer that. simply log in to your google account. then go to to get started. basically, you'll be asked to enter your personal number, verify your phone, then set up your GV number. (side note: if u still use a land-line phone, you can use it for verification. you can, then, send texts through GV to your contacts and basically have texting on a land-line. kinda neat.) once you've set your number, you can enter in your contacts as you need to, adjust some settings for Google Voice, then text away!

    feel free to DM me or shoot me a message on my facebook ( blessings!

    • Thanks for the detailed instructions about Google Voice! I've been using it myself on and off. It's definitely great from an accountability standpoint. Personally, I think it's still a little too inconvenient for me to use on a regular basis. Once I can port my current number over to GV rather than running everything through an app on my phone, I think I'll make the switch completely.

  • I have Google Voice and I am trying txtSignal. Problem is that TxtSignal does not list Google Voice as a carrier and so my texts aren't going through to my phone. I can put in my real cell number but this could be a problem for anyone who wants to use Google Voice. Anyone know what carrier to select to make txtSignal get through to Google Voice?

    • I'm not sure how it would work with Google Voice. I forwarded your comment to Matt Donovan of txtsignal, though. Hopefully he can give a answer.

    • I heard back from txtsignal about the the Google Voice issue. He said, "Google voice does not have a published protocol, so we can't include them on the list.." He gave a much longer technical explanation, too, but that's the short answer. Sorry, Matt!

  • Nikki

    I am a 13 year old girl (was looking for something else &acidently found this article… And read it anyways) I go to a fairly small church.. We hav a youth pastor but he is not married qnd we don't really hav any female youth workers. I hav complete trust in him (and myself) that nothing would ever happen between us and I txt him whenever I hav a big decision or am going through something. He is always willing to talk to me even in the middle of the night sometimes for hours at a time. I don't see anything wrong with it. He is simply a mentor and a spiritual guide for me. He is being use greatly by God and I don't thin others is any reason he shouldn't txt me or any other young ladies in our youth group. If he wasn't appreciable or would talk to us I wouldn't think of him as a very successful youth pastor cause communication is essential. And sometimes it's easier to talk to someone through txt than in person especially if u r upset (ie. Crying). I understand that u don't want to be blamed for anything but just make sure your not so scared that u don't communicate with your youth group (young ladies included)

  • Nikki

    And please don't take anything I said disrespectfully. I understand why you would want to take precautions (there is always someone in every church looking to stir up trouble). Expecially in a larger church I can c how this would b more so important. My youth group only has about 8 people in it 5 of which or young ladies. Well I am assuming from what I read that u r all youth pastors or youth workers and if so then…. Thank u so much for what u do!!! You r preparing the church of tommorrow, and that is amazing!! I know that u all hav a very hard (but rewarding) job. So thank you agian!!!

  • frogger

    I am one of those overbearing parents, and the ME at our church. When I foundout our YM was texting my 13 year old son without my permission, I was incredibly angry. I am enforcing the "parental permission" policy. One in three females, one in five males, sexually abused before 18, usually by someone the family knows and trusts. I truly believe that we are wise to be safe, protecting our church and our flock from the predators out there.

    • I agree it's smart to be wise and prudent, but in the process let's not unintentionally teach our kids not to trust anyone either. Trust is a necessary part of spiritually influential relationships even if it opens us up to risk, as trust always does.

    • concerned

      Overbearing or not, why did you get so angry? Were any of the texts inappropriate? Did the youth leader initiate the text or did your child? Was it about the youth group or just chiti-chat? As youth pastors/leaders it is our responsability to communicate with your children in the best way possible and with todays youth, sometimes a text is the only thing they respond to.

  • I know this is an older blog article, but I wanted to chime in with my own appreciation for it. After years of trying to balance “friend” and “leader” with the teens I have a chance to work with, I’ve found that clear boundaries are a necessity. In some cases they need to be specific in terms of actions, while in others, they may simply need to keep the “heart of the matter” at the forefront.

    Out of that, I’m in the process of building a web-based system ( that I truly hope will help youth pastors and all sorts of other leaders that worth with teens to effectively communicate using today’s technology, without throwing out accountability or leaving parents feeling disconnected.

    The site is It’s currently a group texting / emailing tool that will allow adults who work with teens to communicate in ways that promote accountability, safety, and persistent positive input. We keep parents in the loop of any message involving their kids, and neither leader nor teen ever has to give out their personal contact information.

  • Danielleb

    I’m a female leader so I do have checkup text conversations or facebook chats with some of my female students. The boys, though, I don’t even have their cell phone numbers in my phone usually. I try to send mass texts to more than one of them when able so that there is accountability in that more than one student is seeing what I’m saying, etc. It’s a tricky world, but I agree with you – we can’t let fear cripple us from reaching out to the kids in the ways they relate to.

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