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Podcasting: Full of New possibilities

What is easy to put together, presents a great way to tell a story, and engages high-tech kids?  Podcasting. I don't know if you've listened to podcasts or created some, but I'm thinking this may be a fun new tool that can be used in creative and effective ways. A church I recently visited, Woodcrest Church in Eagan, MN is doing some excellent things with this new technology.

A podcast is simply a recording that has been uploaded to a website. I have found they are really easy to put together on a Mac, but I'm sure a PC can make it work too. With a tool like Garage Band, you can mix voice recordings, music, interviews, even videos.  That means anytime you have something interesting going on at church, you can record it.  One of the easiest things to do would be to podcast the talks that are given in a Wednesday or Sunday meeting.  A quick upload and kids can catch up on things they may have missed.  That, however, is just the beginning.

For instance, you could have kids record their testimonies.  You could have a pre-Wednesday night podcast where you pose some questions.  You could have devotionals, complete with scripture and the latest Christian music.  You could do "radio" shows with kids or Bible characters.  You could have groups of kids produce a weekly podcast--interviewing their friends or playing music or sharing poetry or stories. What Woodcrest Church has done is to make podcasts of interviews the two leaders have with small groups of kids--much like small focus groups.  The interviews might be tied to the themes they are working on during their group Bible studies.  According to the youth pastors, kids love to hear their friends on these podcasts and REALLY get excited about  being asked to be part of an interview group.

Podcasting is just another way to use technology to engage and motivate kids.  I know I have begun developing podcasts for my classes and am assigning students to create them in lieu of certain writing assignments.  It's a new way to get them thinking about important ideas.  So, next time you are wondering how to educate and motivate your kids, why not try a podcast?

To listen to some fun podcasts, visit Woodcrest's website at: 


Multi-payer video games: The good, the bad & the opportunity

Video games are fun, but what could be better than slicing, shooting, and punching your way through enemy lines with your best bud--all without ever leaving the family room sofa. While video games have been around for a long time, the newest trend in gaming is to share those virtual adventures with online friends.  That brings up some interesting questions--how do these online games impact teenage relationships?  How do they impact how guys communicate with one another? Does this have anything at all to do with youth ministry?

According to recent research found in the October 2007 issue of Cyberpsychology and Behavior, online gaming tends to make the bad things worse and the good things better.  First, the bad things.  The most compelling finding was that those study participants who played online video games played 3 times more than those who played single-player games.  That resulted in decreased sleep, more health problems, more interference with real-life socializing, and more trouble with academic tasks. On the positive side, those who interacted with others while they played their video games had more fun and made new friends.  The study found that online, multi-player video games can "foster strong feelings of virtual support and new friendships".

I have personally seen the effects of excessive screen time.  As a freshmen advisor, I have watched guys get into academic trouble in college because they can't put down their video game consoles.  According to one student, "I watched my real-life friends go out and have a good time while I stayed in my dorm room playing games.  Pretty soon I lost almost all of my real-life friends."  The online chat function seems to make these games even harder to put down.  On the flip side, video games really do connect and bond guys in amazing ways.  Quiet, normally unconfident guys can suddenly become expert and valued team members as they steal cars, shoot bad guys, and defeat evil with other guys from youth group or school. They can connect in ways that feel natural and safe compared to the real-life dangers of real-life social interactions with peers.

So, how does this relate to youth ministry? First, it is important to realize the dangers of excessive video gaming.  It might mean we need to help heavy gamers see how their real-life relationships are suffering as a result of their screen time.  It might mean helping them find ways to disconnect in safe and fun ways. Second, realize that young guys are meeting a need through their multi-player video games that they are having trouble meeting in real-life.  Online gaming relationships feel safer, more controllable, and more exciting than those in real-life.  Expertise and confidence that can be found in quick thumb actions might be hard to find in a youth group event or get together. By providing safe, real places for guys to connect, real-life might become a bit more appealing than what they find in their video games.  Finally, talk to guys about video games.  They love playing them and they love talking about them.  For some guys, it is one of the only topics they feel comfortable talking about. Try moving these conversations to discussions of how the technology is changing their relationships and the way they communicate with one another. Consider connecting online gamers in your youth group with each other.  Challenge them to keep each other accountable, both in what they say online and how much time they spend gaming.

Video games are an important part of many teenage guys' lives.  We can't ignore the problems with them and we can't overlook the good things. We can, however, figure out how to use this technology as a way to connect to the deep-seeded needs and interests of the guys we work with.



October 2007 issue of the bimonthly peer-reviewed journal CyberPyschology & Behavior (Vol. 10, No. 5: 717–721).


Is MySpace so yesterday? Is Everyone on Facebook? It's So Hard to Keep Up!!

"Just when I finally got a MySpace page, they all switch to Facebook!"  That was the frustrated comment of a kind but overwhelmed gentleman in his fifties who was trying to figure out how to connect to the kids he worked with.  He had attended a luncheon for youthworkers' I recently spoke at and was ready to give up. Just when he thought he had learned something--that he had finally made some progress, he finds out he's too late.  His young people were gone--gone to another online social networking site with all new rules and new software paste-ins.  And, for many young people, it's true.  There's been a change a takin' place on the social networking horizon. For the past year, I have been watching as, first college students, then high school students, have migrated to Facebook. 

The college students I talk with say that Facebook feels a little more controlled, they feel a little safer.  And, because the college kids have been using it, it feels more mature and classy for high school kids to log on to.  And, if that weren't enough, guess who the new target market is for Facebook?  Adults aged 25-50.  Can you imagine?  A student works so hard to build their social network away from their parents'  prying eyes and suddenly its located in the exact same place where their mom connects with all of her girlfriends?!  Something's gotta give. Many of my students are predicting Facebook may have made enough greedy decisions that their base market of college students may soon be looking for something better.

Still wondering where that leaves you as you wander in the social networking wildnerness? Let me clear up a few misperceptions.  First, Facebook may look more controlled and safer than MySpace, but future employers, stalkers, old boyfriends, and your mom can find you just as easily on Facebook as they could on MySpace.  Second, MySpace is not on its' last legs.  According to a study that just came out in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, race, parental income, even whether or not someone lives at home with the folks, are all predictors of which site they visit to connect to their social network. For instance, Asian and Asian-American students tend to use Xanga more than Facebook or MySpace.  Hispanic students tend to use MySpace more often. Students whose parents' highest education level is high school or below tend to use MySpace.  Those whose parents have graduate education usually use Facebook and Xanga.  Women tend to use any social networking site more than men and college-aged students who live with their parents are much less likely to use Facebook. In fact, those who are college-age and live at home and probably need online networking to more easily connect them with their friends are actually less likely to use any online social networking site at all.

So, what does that all mean? Kids are all over the place.  There isn't one social networking site that will catch every kid you work with.  And, keep in mind, over 44% of teens don't use any site at all. My guess is that the days of one big, bad social networking site are gone.  That makes our job a little more difficult, but also opens up some opportunities.  For instance, it means that you have to listen to your kids and ask them where they hang out online.  That requires we open the conversation. And that's a good thing.  Second, it means that kids may be more willing to change sites.  One of the youth groups I worked with had persuaded a number of guys to move their profiles to a specific Christian site. It wasn't long before a bunch of the girls were using the same site.  Much to the parents pleasure, the site was more easily monitored and cleaner.  And before the kids knew it, the entire group was connecting, sharing pictures, posting blogs, and socially networking just like they could on Facebook or MySpace, but in a place that was probably better suited for high school kids.

The bottom-line?  Technology is changing faster than we are. That doesn't mean we should quit and go back to fill in the blank Bible studies on Sunday nights.  It means we need to keep talking with our kids about their technology and figure out how to make the technology work for us. With a little work, we can find our kids and their friends, and become part of their very important social networks that are such a very important part of their teenage experience.


Podcast on Boundaries & Self-disclosure

Make sure to take a listen to the podcast I just posted in the "Rewired" podcast section.


Are we drowning out the Holy Spirit? When does technology just get in the way?

It's a Sunday morning and you can feel the reverence as individuals quietly gather to worship the Almighty God. Within minutes, the drums start banging, the powerpoint images flash across a huge screen, the sound system amplifies the music that compels the people to join in singing with voices long-drowned out by the high-tech speakers.  The spotlight illuminates the glowing cross.  Its a worship "experience" on the highest technological level.  The question is, however, has the technology made God more or less visible?

 How about a less flashy example.  You get a new phone and figure out how to text using just your thumbs.  Cool.  You send fun little messages to each of the guys in your youth group.  They think you are so "happening!"  As you sit and text more "hey, dude!" messages, two youth groups kids wander by unnoticed. 

 Technology can provide a GREAT way to get students' attention.  It can be an effective way to build connections with the students you work with.  It can also add to the noise.  If you are thinking about using some piece of technology, whether it be some cool video in youth group or a new Facebook page, stop and think about what the technology will give you--and what it will cost you.  Just like any tool, whether it be a hammer or a text message, technology needs to be used purposefully.  If the tool will help draw your students closer to Jesus Christ, then use it.  If the technolopgy is really cool and even a little fun, but does nothing to build important relationships or focus a message, then think twice. 

Our students have a lot of noise in their lives.  Whether it be t.v., IPods, cell phones, video games, or computers, they probably don't need more of the same.  In fact, sometimes what they need is silence. Its a scarey thing.  But silence might be what it takes for them to hear God's small, still voice.  Maybe a youth group event that disconnects students and focuses on silence would be more flashy and attention-getting than an expensive video or high-tech game.  Maybe a meeting at McDonald's or a walk down the sidewalk with a student would do more connecting than a thousand text messages.

So, before you get all wired up, think about what you want your technology to do.  Instead of yelling louder through the technological noise, you may just want to send a whisper to softly touch the heart of your kids.