Simon’s work explored ‘hybrid youth ministry’ and discussed the importance of incorporating social media and online platforms into youth ministry. It emphasises the need for youth leaders to engage with young people in these digital spaces. It looks specifically at the role of group messaging services as a distinct form of social media, through a case study of ‘the Wave’ youth group who have adopted the ‘Messenger’ and ‘Instagram’ platforms into their practice since 2016.
We’ve sat down with a coffee and a biscuit (or two) and digested his findings (and the biscuits) and these are some of our reflections:
A more authentic experience of community?
Simon’s research advocates for a hybrid approach to youth ministry, blending online and in-person dimensions. The signs are it might enable young people and youth leaders to share more equally in their fellowship, giving young people a more authentic experience of equitable community. Hybrid ministry can promote inclusion and participation e.g. young people who may not speak up in-person during face to face sessions but feel more comfortable contributing online. Young people can take the lead in communication with Youth Leaders in less of a directive role than may be experienced in-person. The youth leaders Simon interviews reflect on this, classing their own involvement in the online chat groups as fitting into ‘broadcaster’ (of information) or ‘reactive/commenting’ roles as opposed to ‘interactive (posing questions/initiating discussion) or ‘passive’ roles. They also valued the insight the communication on the platform gave them into some of the more positive experiences young people were having during the week, with one commenting:
“Sometimes on Friday, you don’t really get to hear about the amazing stuff that’s happened in the week, you’re just confronted with what’s gone wrong. [On social medial] you’re more likely to capture those great moments...”
We know from our soon to be published trends research that young people are increasingly moving their existing friendships online; hybrid ministry gives youth leaders the opportunity to enter into that space with young people, albeit often as aliens in a foreign land!
Shared history at your fingertips
The nature of group messaging online means there is a written record of all group communication for as long as any member keeps the chat. The ‘feedback loop’ dynamic of social media naturally encourages young people to share their views and this recorded shared history enables members to read back through their collective journey. Something that can provide encouragement to individual members as well as space for shared reflection on their own faith journeys.
New ways of discipleship and growing leaders
Group messaging provided an easy platform for young people to participate more actively in planning and organisation of group meetings. Young people are digital natives, they own these spaces and with that comes a confidence to lead within them that may not yet be present in the face-to-face world. Leadership within these online spaces can lead into leadership and ministry offline as young people grow in their confidence and start to own more traditional spaces within church structures.
Looking into the future
The tech world moves quickly and after reading Simon’s thesis we couldn’t resist a bit of postulating about where AI might fit into a hybrid-model of youth ministry…..
Imagine an AI member of the group that listens in on all the chat and then creates schedules, meeting plans and action lists, individually checking in with each member to check on their progress with tasks and projects. This bot also analyses messages for content that might warrant a prompt to the Youth Leaders, e.g. a pattern of messaging behaviour from a young person that is out of character, or can hide messages that are concerning in content for youth leaders to view first. On anniversary days – baptisms, significant group events– the bot reminds members of their shared history, linking back to previous messages and building that sense of community and connection.
To those of us approaching middle age it sounds great and weird in equal measure and sorting out the safeguarding feels like it might be akin to solving a Rubik’s cube! But Rubik’s cubes are solvable and presumably so are the safeguarding aspects of AI and hybrid youth ministry, it might just take us a while to work out the algorithm. One thing though we must hold to, as we navigate these new spaces and take advantage of these new technologies, is to keep the core values and practices of the Christian faith at the heart of them.
Find out more
You can read the full study here. If you would like to know more about this study or have questions about how you might develop your own hybrid approach in youth ministry, then Simon would love to hear from you. He can be contacted via SHill@cofe-worcester.org.uk