By Aaron Earls
Your church will not reach teenagers simply by getting on “social media.”
Many well-intentioned churches assume they are engaging young people online because they started a Facebook page and add some announcements there a few times a week.
More than 8 in 10 Protestant churches in America (84 percent) say they have a Facebook page, according to a Lifeway Research survey.
That’s not a bad thing. Most American adults (68 percent) say they are on Facebook, according to Pew Research. Eight in 10 adults under 50 say they use Facebook.
If the church uses Facebook to engage young families, it can be effective—but Facebook’s growth has plateaued.
And teenagers are often in a completely different digital neighborhood.
A recent Pew Research survey of teenagers and social media found 13- to 17-year-olds are much more likely to use YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat than Facebook.
In 2018, 85 percent of teens use YouTube, 72 percent use Instagram, and 69 percent are on Snapchat, while roughly half (51 percent) are on Facebook.
Facebook also ranks fourth in terms of the social media platform teens use most often. More than a third (35 percent) say they spend the most time on Snapchat, while 32 percent use YouTube most, 15 percent favor Instagram, and 10 percent say Facebook.
This is a significant change in just three years.
In 2015, Pew Research found 71 percent of teens said they used Facebook, by far the most popular app for them. More than 4 in 10 (41 percent) said they used Facebook most often—double the number who said the same of Instagram (20 percent).
If your church is aiming to use social media to reach teenagers in 2018, you should look beyond Facebook. Yet few churches actually do.
Only 13 percent of churches say they have an Instagram account. Slightly more (16 percent) have a Twitter account.
It took churches several years to come around on Facebook—just in time to watch people start to leave.
A 2010 Lifeway Research survey found fewer than half of churches (47 percent) had Facebook pages. Today, that number has almost doubled.
It’s a good thing churches have adapted and expanded their online presence. But they can’t be complacent or assume what worked before will keep working now.
Facebook can be a very effective tool to promote church events and keep adult members informed, but it is no longer a good way to reach teenagers.
If you want to communicate the gospel with teens online or even connect with students in your own congregation, someone at your church should invest time on Instagram.
A recent story on The Atlantic showed how many teenagers now use Instagram as more than simply a social media app—they see it as a replacement for Google.
Teens are searching the image-sharing platform for how-to threads. They’re looking for beauty and health care tips, dating ideas, and life advice.
They find it easier and more trustworthy than an article that pops up through a normal internet search.
At the same time, 24 percent of teenagers say social media has had a mostly negative effect on their lives, according to Pew Research.
More than a quarter of those who say it has been negative (27 percent) say the main reason is cyberbullying and the spread of rumors. Another 17 percent say social media harms relationships.
Teenagers in your church and surrounding neighborhood are looking for loving community and help navigating an anxious stage of life. They should be able to find both of those through your congregation.
The only question is: Will they even know you and your Facebook page exist?
- What Technology Drives Gen Z?
- 6 Ways to Help Your Kids Survive Social Media
- Teens Find Friends and Drama Online
- What Churches Need to Know About Generation Z
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.