This is the second installment in our series on Social Media in Youth Ministry. In yesterday’s post we gave a short introduction on social media and youth ministry. Today, we’ll look at some numbers and stats on youth using Facebook and then we’ll discuss the question if Facebook is still ‘hot’ amongst youth and thus usable.

It’s a safe guess you know Facebook, it’s the most popular social networking site (others are for instance Twitter and the recently launched Google+, though it’s been eerily quiet there). Facebook at the moment has over 750 million active users. A whopping 71% of all US internet users are now on Facebook. For some more cool infographics and statistics and a nice overview of Facebook’s history, click here.

Youth and Facebook

Youth still loves Facebook. Per September 2011, this is an overview of Facebook users by age:

13-17 group: 20.6%

18-25 group: 25.8%

26-34 group: 26.1%

35-44 group: 14.9%

45-54 group: 8%

55-64 group: 4.6%

As you can see, youth is well represented on Facebook. But the big question is if it will stay that way. The average age of Facebook users is rising, from 26 to 33 in November 2009. It’s caused by the hordes of ‘older people’, like parents and sometimes even grandparents who join Facebook. But youth isn’t always that keen on mom and dad seeing everything that they do, so the question is if they will stay on a social network where there parents are as well and if not, where they will go next. Youthworker Danny Ferguson has seen a decline of the usability of Facebook in his youth work already:

Many of the youth we work with are not using Facebook anymore. We have virtually stopped using it. We use it some, but with their grandmas, parents and little siblings on there, it simply isn’t as cool anymore. And group messages are becoming more like spam on Facebook so the messages get ignored. We text – that works a lot better.

Others are still firmly committed to using Facebook however, like James Hooper:

Social Media is the way most students communicate. I don’t think social media is the end all and should be the only way of communication. But, it’s a way to reach them on their turf. At the same time, we (pastors) are learners of the behavior of this generation and what they communicate on-line is more than they communicate face to face. Though we’re trying to break that barrier by using social media and try to connect with them outside of FB/Twittter, etc . For example, students never use e-mail, but they use FB. 🙂

Dutch youth worker André Maliepaard says the same:

Since we started using Facebook to promote our activities, attendance grew.

The question if Facebook is still ‘hot’ amongst youth is therefore not that easy to anawer. It may strongly depend on the type of youth you work with and even the country you’re in. You’ll need to stay on top of your stats therefore to stay ahead of any change that may be coming your way.

Using Facebook to connect with youth

It looks like Facebook still is an excellent way of connecting with your youth. In the next post we will show some creative ways to use Facebook. For now I want to share some general concerns in using facebook:

  • Beware of the minimum age for Facebook, which is 13. Don’t encourage kids under 13 to create a profile!
  • Keep in mind that they can and will read your updates and see your pictures as well. Living a transparent life gets a whole new definition and they will be able to see quickly if you walk the walk you’re talking about
  • You’ll also be likely to see some stuff on their profiles and in their updates that will negatively surprise you. That girl that claims to be such a good Christian may be kissing different boys each weekend. You may be confronted with some rude language along the way. Be prepared for this and think of how you will deal with this.
  • Be very, very careful with setting boundaries and sticking to these. As many Christians have unfortunately found out, social media has a way of making you go one or two steps too far in communicating with the opposite sex. Protect yourself and protects your youth by keeping firm boundaries.

Using Facebook to connect with youth workers

I have mixed feelings about this one. While I have added some other youth workers I don’t know that well on Facebook, I’ve for the most part tried to keep Facebook private, meaning for my family, friends and the youth of my own church. That’s because I really want to keep up with most of the updates, which is hard enough with the 245 or so friends I have right now. It’s something I see more and more youth workers do, so maybe you’d do wise in finding another social medium to connect with other youth workers. In my humble opinion, LinkedIn or Twitter works far better.

Facebook is of course an excellent social medium to promote your youth ministry or youth organization. I have ‘liked’ several Facebook pages of youth ministry organizations I’m interested in. That means I get their Facebook feed into my stream and thus stay up to date with what’s happening.

How do you use Facebook in youth ministry? Do you keep your account private or not? Do you use a group or a page for your youth group? Is that functioning well? Share your experiences so we can learn from each other!