Open the lines of youth group communication

Youth group communicationAs I prepare to move to a new youth group in Minnesota, one of my first tasks is to establish a system for communication with a couple hundred students, parents and volunteers. Every youth group I’ve led is already used to a certain form of communication before my arrival and every group needs to be re-trained and educated a bit for it to be more effective. Typically my primary communication takes place online, but with dial-up still running rampant in this rural town I may have to adjust my approach a little and try to hit cells phones a little harder.

Here are my ideas for mass youth group communication so far:

  • Website/Forum: A no-brainer to set up and use, but a little difficult to use effectively. Unless you give youth group kids, leaders and parents reasons for returning, they’ll visit the site once and leave it at that. The site needs to be very interactive to generate return traffic so users actually see the frequent news updates that are posted.
  • Call-in phone number: It’s not very original to have an information hot line people can call to listen to the latest updates and information, but new tools like SkypeIn make it so easy and very affordable. For less than $40/year anyone can get a local phone number with voicemail and never have to deal with a phone company.
  • Mass text messaging: Since almost every student carries a cell phone with a text messaging plan, this seems to me to be the best way to communicate quick messages that may point them to the youth group website for more information. I used to do this with the free “IM to cell phone” included in AOL’s Instant Messenger, but for larger groups it might be more beneficial to use a bulk SMS service.
  • AIM away message: A lot of my current students use AOL’s Instant Messenger, so I created a special youth group screen name that I left online 24/7 with updated info in the away message. To train kids to check the info, I ran several “be the first to message me” riddle contests and identify movie audio clips.
  • E-mail mailing list: Sometimes the tried-and-true method works best, as long as people check their e-mail and actually read the information.
  • Facebook/MySpace group: I know several youth groups that utilize these social networking sites quite effectively. They create a group for their youth group and use it to message information, post pictures, discuss ideas and stay in touch. Since teens and leaders visit these sites regularly anyway, placing your youth group information there can be quite effective.
  • Newsletters: Although the age of formal newsletters seems to have passed, the idea of monthly communication in one concise format is still attractive to some parents. It allows them to have all the information they need in one place once a month and not be bothered by all the reminders throughout the next four weeks.
  • Fliers and handouts: This works as long as students take the paper home, remember where they put it and remember to look at it later. Most of the time I pick the fliers up off the floor when the kids go home.
  • Bulletin board: It’s easy to hang one of these things at church and tack up the latest info. What’s not so easy is expecting that everyone will check it out and take the info home with them.

What other methods of bulk communication have you tried with your youth group? What worked and what didn’t? I need some more good ideas for Minnesota.

Posted on February 2, 2007

  • For sending text messages, you can simply use email on pretty much any network. Check out this link for how to configure emails for different service providers. All you do is type the 10-digit phone number @ the carrier’s domain name and viola! For example, a kid with Verizon with the phone number 012-345-6789 would be Obviously, it’s simple to create a massive and quick email list dedicated for text messaging using this method.

  • Tim

    That’s great, Matt! Thanks! I knew you could send text messages via e-mail like that because I sometimes text myself e-mail notes of things I need to remember at home. Using the idea as an e-mail list is a great idea. Finding out what network every student uses might take a while, but fortunately they don’t switch phone numbers and service providers every other week like they do e-mail addresses and AIM screen names.

    The thing about text messaging is that people tend to respond right away, unlike e-mail. So, if I send out over 200 text messages by e-mail, that’s a lot of short little responses over the next couple minutes to keep up with! :)

  • Tim,

    This is a great article. It will help many people not only transition, but stay focused currently in their ministry by connecting to teens.

    I announced my plans to move to a pastorate last week and some of these will come in handy if I leave the area. My prayers are with you.

    James Tippins

  • Gregg

    Great ideas guys. Another thing we have been doing is a phone blitz. We get about 4-6 kids to come to the office and give them each 1/4 to 1/6 of the list of students we have with their phone number and parents name. Also we give them a talk sheet to tell them what to say. It works great getting invites out or just a reminder for something. I’ve had it work so good sometimes that we have had 50% increase on attendence at an event or normal service. You can give the kids the list to take home to call but it’s not as effective because they usually only call part of the list.

  • I like that idea Greg. I know a lot of kids like the personal invitations to come to youth. They want to feel like someone wants them there. When I came on as youth intern for a summer at a church my goal was to connect with all the students who were the age to come to youth group. I had kids coming who people didn’t even know where part of the church. All it took was time to personally call and talk to them and invite them.

  • Tim

    Gregg, this brings up a question that’s always gone back and forth in my mind. I feel that students are quite capable of keeping up with what’s important to them — TV shows, athletic schedules, extracurricular activities, parties, etc. — and they don’t need us to remind them about youth group every week. So what’s the balance between begging kids to come and just informing them about what’s going on?

    In my current youth ministry I reserve phone calls for personal contact and communication from their small group leaders, as in my wife’s example above. Not sure how it’ll work in Minnesota, but since it’s a larger group your suggestion may be very helpful. Thanks!

  • CBQ

    I am a postcard queen. I like postcards because: they are easily seen in the mail because i use bright colored cardstock, parents and youth get the same info, and they can easily be clipped to a calendar or posted on a fridge.

    I like the phone blitz idea though…gonna have to use that!

  • Tim

    I saw a good article today at about setting up autoresponders for visitor follow-up. The day a guest visits your group add them to your autoresponder. Your preloaded messages could be:

    Day 1: Thanks for stopping to meet with us.
    Day 3: Do you have any questions about the group or ministry?
    Day 5: Here’s a list of our bible study courses if you’re interested
    Day 6: See you again tomorrow?

    You add their name once and they get the message automatically. Cool idea.

  • I have noticed that if I try to send an email sms message with a bunch of snumbers it gets kicked out by the verizon gateway, so I use this program called groupmail 5 here and it will mail an individeal email message to each member. Here’s a tip, when you’re creating you list, I added a collumn for extra data. I’ve used that extra collumn to mail merge in how much each kid owes for their t-shirt order or what not, and that way each teen can get a txt message with their own name and personalized information.

    As far a postcards go, we had a “Big Game” party (Go Colts) and what I do for postcards is create the post card then send it to walmart, and have them print them as photos. They look awesome and can be mailed. You could make personalized postcards from pictures from events or trips.

  • Tim

    Jason, those are excellent suggestions! I’ll probably end up trying both of them with my new youth group.

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  • How about getting your very own customizable bulk sms service for your youth group? MobileCause is run by devoted Christians who are making a difference in the world by equiping churches and youth groups with SMS technology to serve the cause! I’d love to share more…

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  • Callie

    I would check out www. for text blasting…its free and easy and we’ve had some youth groups and prayer groups trying it out!

  • You could google "Operator Sue," it's more like a mobile chat room that could help keep everyone all on the same page.

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