When I first started in youth ministry, MySpace was all the rage. In order to connect with students, you had to have a MySpace page to link up with students. I even had a weekly MySpace blog to share with students about our ministry. (Yes, I was the epitome of cool.)
However, soon Facebook arrived and things changed.
I have to tell you, at the time, I served at a rural church in suburban Cincinnati. (If you’ve lived in Cincinnati, you know that 20 minutes out of town and you are living next to farms and pastures.) These students, while rural in nature, had access to many city conveniences and trends. As soon as one group of seniors went off to school (though they never left home) and came back with Facebook, MySpace was history in my youth ministry.
Then God called me to another youth ministry, this time in rural eastern Kentucky. I arrived and quickly promoted my Facebook page, which garnered a lot of confused looks. Turns out, these guys, in a rural setting, still used MySpace. While Facebook took over with more of my city-bound students, MySpace thrived in the rural setting for another 18 months.
In fact, I found a lot trends are delayed in rural settings. Clothing, technology and fads often develop in bigger cities and slowly work their way to rural areas.
As a youth minister in rural churches, you must use that fact to your advantage. While your setting may slowly adapt, you can stay ahead of the curve by plugging into to new forms of media and trends.
At that same church, while many of my students were switching over to Facebook, I quickly signed up for a new form of social media called Twitter. I tweeted for two years before many of my students started signing up. I did the same with Instagram. I also upgraded to a new smartphone before many others in my community did.
By doing that, I stayed ahead of my students. I took advantage of something a lot of rural folks already know – things move slower in the country.
It’s not just technology either. I read up on cultural trends like “hooking up” and “friends with benefits” and was ready to address those topics before they arrived in my small community. I paid attention to the music charts and could tell when certain tastes would start winding their way toward me.
It helped me stay head of the trends with my students. It can with you as well.
As I visit bigger cities (on vacation, during a conference or through family visits), I take note of fads in the stores, in local commercials and in the people walking around. Those are things I know will be affecting my students in the coming months. And I can stay ahead of the curve.