Navigating Digital Youth Ministry

pile of cell phones

If it wasn’t the new normal before, COVID ensured it had to be: Digital Youth Ministry.

With technology continuing to rapidly progress and shift the world we live in, it becomes even more important that we have a lens for navigating youth ministry in the digital world. To that end, I’m not here to suggest every tip, trick, and digital strategy for a successful ministry. To be honest, I don’t have all of the X’s and O’s figured out. Most of us don’t, and we don’t have the capacity to master those things.

But it’s my core belief that the gospel can help us navigate just about anything, so let me offer a thought on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then muse for a minute about how that colors the way we see the digital landscape in the world of youth ministry.

When Jesus came onto the scene in the first century, He didn’t portray Himself as overwhelmingly impressive in any of the flashy ways the Jewish people wanted Him to. Yes, He did miracles. That’s certainly flashy. But they wanted Him to become a big-time influencer on the most powerful platform of their day, government.

While there was a lot of expectation for Jesus to primarily take the most mainstream, popular pathway to influence, He chose a different way.

He chose influence through authentic relationships, uncommon character, and a lifechanging message. And while this aspect of the gospel narrative isn’t the end all-be-all to help us navigate digital ministry in 2024, it does give us a strong starting point.

Our primary pathway to influence with students isn’t the most mainstream, popular pathway right now. Every student looks to an online influencer in their spare time—that’s true. But your in-person, face-to-face interactions is what fuels your influence with a student—even in the digital world.

Your digital interactions needs to be and feel like a natural extension of your in-person interactions. Because it’s not about being viral. It’s about being you. And the reason your digital content works with your students is because your in person “content” works with your students.

 So with that in mind as the lens through which we see digital ministry, here are a few best practices to better engage students digitally outside of your youth group time:

1) Think interactive content, engaging visuals, and conversations that draw them in. And you might notice, this feels pretty similar to what you try to do during youth group time. Interactive content. Engaging visuals. Inviting conversations. But that’s the point. Your digital interaction should feel like a natural extension of your in-person interactions.

2) You don’t have to be Wendy’s on X (Twitter). If you’re unfamiliar with the reference, Wendy’s is known for having an incredible funny, relatable, quick-witted X persona. Wendy’s the restaurant is just…like…a fast-food restaurant. Not inherently funny or snarky at all. But online? Don’t try to troll Wendy’s. The clapback is serious. And while none of us would ever have our ministry’s digital content be snarky or mean-spirited, I think some of us might be tempted to have our ministry’s online persona feel very different than our actual ministry’s persona. We often just gravitate toward following whatever bigger organizations are doing online. But we don’t have to do that. Our account doesn’t have to “be” something our ministry isn’t. Our digital content can and should feel like a natural extension of our ministry’s in-person culture.

3) Be digitally inclusive. You know how much this generation values inclusivity. Be inclusive in your digital content by not only posting content for students who were at the last event or able to make the next event. Of course announcements on your digital pages makes sense. And recap videos and pictures do too. But remember that there are students who, at least for a season, may only experience your ministry through your digital content, so be inclusive by keeping them in mind when you plan out your posting strategy.

Jesus could’ve taken the most popular, prominent pathway to influence. Instead He chose to primarily be present with us. And because He was made like us in every way, He was able to become our Great High Priest—which is pretty influential to say the least!

Be present with your students, and earn the right to infiltrate their phone life during the week.

If you gain influence in person, I promise you they will engage with your content online during the week. Even though they can find higher production value or crazier video premises somewhere else, they’ll engage because they really like you, your leaders, and/or the ministry environment you’ve helped to create where they can feel seen, loved, and safe as they grow in their walk with Jesus.

Mike Haynes is a full-time youth pastor and the creator of G Shades Youth Ministry Curriculum. Feel free to reach out to Mike anytime over email at
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