1Q intervew: Social Media Boundaries

By Jacob Eckeberger on July 29 2014

Original photo by Andrew Fysh.

It’s easier than ever to connect with and encourage students through social media. There are so many benefits to using social media to reach students that it can be easy to forget the importance of having simple self-imposed boundaries that help protect youth workers and students. In this 1Q interview, we ask 3 incredible youth ministers to share their expertise in response to this question: 

What boundaries do you establish for yourself and your youth leaders on social media?

Heather Campbell is the Associate Director of Youth Ministry for Junior High at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, IN. heatherleacampbell.me

Our Youth Ministry team actually just adopted a social media policy to be established in the fall for all volunteers and staff.  We recognize that social media is the number one way of communicating directly with students, and don't want to discourage that!  In fact, Instagram has helped my relationships with my students grow, as I'm still relatively new to the church.  The main boundary that we have established is to make sure that all communication between adults and students is traceable--this means that social media like Facebook and Twitter are great, while Snapchat and Ask.FM are not so.  Another advisement that we have is that when texting, be cautious about autocorrect (which I fail miserably at), abbreviations (like LOL, JK, LMAO, etc!), and emoticons.  We also advise that you should always proof-read before you post, and if you think it has some way of being misconstrued, don't post it!  Best example: One time I accidentally texted a student back, "Sorry, I'm really busty today. :-*" Well, I added the kissy face to prove a point to you, and that point is: Use common sense and proof-read what you post!

Jackson Fong is the Student Ministry Pastor at First Baptist Church of Downey overseeing Middle School through College. YMOptions.com

I believe that scripture provides great boundaries and guidelines for living today, including how we interact in social media.

1 Peter 4:11 says “Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.” (NLT)

In light of this verse, I think that our Social Media interactions with students should be R.E.D. lettered.

  1. Rely on CHRIST – Social media tends to have a lot of ‘self’ focus. We should point to God and the students need to lean heaviest on HIM (1 Peter 4:11). We can’t always be there and we don’t have all the answers. (This also helps us to avoid a ton of other pitfalls.)
  2. Edify, Bless and Encourage – How will this help the student? How will our posts set us and them apart? Where in the post might they find Jesus?
  3. Dedicated interactions should be via other forums – Small groups, personal interactions, mentoring can use social media, but can’t replace it.

Stephen Ingram is the Director of Student Ministries at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Birmingham, AL, a coach with Youth Ministry Architects, and author of "Hollow Faith and [extra] Ordinary Time." organicstudentministry.com

I use three simple rules when determining how and what social media I use.

  1. Am I ethically ok with the basis of this social media platform? Facebook? Yes. Instagram? Yes. Snap Chat? No. Not only is it used and can be used for very unethical purposes several documents including details of its founding included in this great piece by Adam McLane make it very clear the founding and intent of snap chat is not something I would want to promote or support, especially in my student ministry. If this were not enough, the liability of not being able to control exactly what comes on my phone’s screen is also a huge problem. What a 13 year old boy thinks is funny can often be illegal. Seriously.
  2. Would I be happy if a students parent saw what I posted or commented? If there is even a hesitation, do not do it. It is not worth it and once it is on the internet you cannot take it back.
  3. Lastly, what purpose is this serving and can I do this more effectively in a more personal way? Social media has been a great tool for student ministry but it has also, in many ways, taken away much of our personal connections. We can communicate so efficiently through it and get so many details about each others lives that we often mistake that for a deeper more intimate interaction. It can be good but is not an apples to apples substitute for sitting across from a student breathing the same air.

Be wise as snakes and gentle as doves in the social media jungle and you will do well in student ministry!


Picture of Mark Boatman

From Mark Boatman on August 05, 2014

Great article. Question: Does anyone have policies about whether adults can “friend” students (as in initiate the social media connection) or whether it needs to be student initiated?

Picture of Stephen Ingram

From Stephen Ingram on August 12, 2014

Hey Mark!
We encourage our volunteers to be in relationships with the students.  Facebook is one of those arenas.  We do train them and help them think about it in the same way we think about and talk about Safe Sanctuaries (our child/adult protection policy).  Again, same rules as listed above.  One of the things it gives our volunteers the ability to do is to see them in their element and “like” or give encouragement for things they are doing.  Hope this helps and thanks for reading!

Picture of Jackson Fong

From Jackson Fong on August 23, 2014

Mark - I’ve worked with churches who have polices for and against this as well as have had no policies at all about this. I’d answer with the following:

- Know your church. Do they have a policy on this at all? do they have any policies that would be a natural guideline for this? (if you don’t have to start from scratch, don’t.) If they have a policy, why?

- Know your audience. What type of people make up your church? Your community? A policy in urban Los Angeles, may not work in suburban San Diego and may be polar opposite than where you may want to go in a rural or ethnic environment.

- Know your purpose. If this is about scoping out students, or ramping out your ‘friend’ lists, or reliving your high school years- DON’T DO IT! If this is truly about building up authentic relationships to make a positive difference in their life, simply START THE CONVERSATION. Depending on the environment, this conversation may need to start with your spouse, your pastor, the board, your student’s parents or simply THE STUDENT’S THEMSELVES.

I’m praying wisdom for you and your team as you seek out the best for your students. If you want samples of any of the previously mentioned policies, let me know.

By His Grace,

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.