“Faithfully Facebook” was created by Randall Curtis, youth and young adult ministry developer for the Episcopal Church in Arkansas. It is meant to be a resource for youth ministers, clergy, and lay volunteers whose work with youth and young adults invariably involves Facebook.
Anyone who works with youth—for that matter, anyone—must wrestle with Facebook. Some ministers had just as soon ignore. But it is too large and too ubiquitous to ignore, and our youth certainly don’t. Some dive in without any reservations. But there are pitfalls there, too. So how do we use Facebook and use it well? And what do we teach our youth about using it?
This resource packet has three main goals:
- To open discussion between participants on what their Facebook activity says about who they are.
- To inform participants about how Facebook makes money off of their Facebook activity and raise awareness about how their information is being used.
- To equip participants with strategies to use Facebook safely and faithfully.
What’s in a Name?
Begin by telling the following story:
Jürgen Moltmann, a German Reformed theologian, tells a story from Word War II. Each morning, an officer had to walk down a hallway and pass through a door that was secured by a guard. Each morning, the guard asked, “What is your name?” He waited for an answer, then asked, “Why are you here?” And finally, he would ask, ”Where are you going?” Then the officer was allowed to pass through the door. This morning routine went on for years.
The war was coming to an end. The guard continued to stand by the door, but he no longer asked the three questions. The officer was allowed to simply walk down the hallway and through the door. One day, the officer stopped, turned to the guard, and said, “I will pay you each day to continue to ask me those questions. Each morning, because of you, I was reminded who I was, why I was here, and where I was going.”
Then read the following verse:
Ephesians 4:1–3 – “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling
to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
By way of opening a discussion, pose the following questions:
- Why is your name important?
- What do the Readings above say about the value of a name?
- What kinds of things make up your identity to the world? How would people describe you? Things I like. Things I do. People who am in relationship with. Things I believe.
- How does your Facebook Timeline show that?
Divide into groups of three. Have each group pick a well-known biblical character and draw a Facebook “timeline” for him or her. Include who interacts with them, photos they post, event they go to and things they like.
After the timelines are completed and presented to the rest of the group, ask the following questions by way of discussion:
- How does your Facebook profile or timeline show the world who you are?
- Is it accurate?
- Are there things you would like to change?
On one large piece of newsprint write “Bad side of Facebook”; on another write “Good side of Facebook.” Have youth then brainstorm and find answers for each. Bad sides of Facebook might include cyber-bullying,fFinancial scams, account hackers, etc. Good sides of Facebook might include networking old friends and family, birthday and milestone reminders, extending the reach of charities and non-profits.
If you have the ability, show the video “Caine’s Arcade” [YouTube link]. It shows how a community formed around a 9-year-old boy’s home-made cardboard arcade.
End this section by acknowledging that Facebook has some good and bad things that we need to be preapared for. Then move on to the tips on how to use Facebook safely.
Tips to Help Protect Yourself on Facebook
1. Check your privacy settings.
An easy way to do this is to go to Randall Curtis’ website theholygeek.com and click on the “Social Networking” tab. You can then click on the Facebook button and a window will open directly to your privacy settings for apps. Now you can simply remove the apps that you are no longer using by clicking on the “X.”
2. Keep a strong password.
“Password” and “1234” do not count. Make sure you have a mixture of numbers and letters. Many people like to combine two words that don’t make sense but are easy to remember. An example might be, “27BarkingCats.”
3. Don’t friend people you don’t know and defriend those that you don’t.
You don’t walk around yelling out everything you do and everything you like to complete strangers. So
don’t do it on Facebook either.
4. Clean up your Friend list regularly by de-friending and creating lists.
You might want to make a “close friends and family” list with whom you share everything,
and then share less information with others. Under your privacy settings, you can create lists to manage friends and what they see.
5. Check the validity of a link before you click it.
If your friend has posted an unexpected or out-of-character video to your wall, before clicking
the video, ask if they really sent it. Videos are one of the most common ways that people spread viruses through Facebook.
6. Immediately report any bullying that you see to Facebook.
Facebook considers bullying an abuse, and every post, comment and photo posted on Facebook has an option to “Report abuse.” They take it very seriously and will act quickly. Facebook reportedly deletes or bans about 20,000 profiles a day.
Suggested Facebook Practices for Youth Ministry
This is by no means comprehensive. They are suggestions for how to efficiently and strategically manage Facebook as a tool for ministry. Each location of ministry is different and so may need to use Facebook in different ways.
First, a word about the different options Facebook offers. A youth minister might use three main different permutations of Facebook: a Facebook profile, Facebook pages, and Facebook groups.
A Facebook profile is personal; it is, simply, your named account.
A Facebook page is external; it is public and anyone can view it. In fact, it is meant to draw people in. Many companies and organizations use a Facebook page for this reason. Interested people then “like” the page and become “fans.” As fans, information posted to the page will appear in their news feed. A Facebook pages are great for youth ministries and churches.
A Facebook group is internal; it is only open to people the site administrator allows to become members. This allows the group to discuss and share photos without the usual fear of others seeing or overhearing. Facebook groups are great for working committees and small study groups.
And now for the best practices:
1. Do not use your own Facebook Profile to make ministry announcements.
Create a Facebook Page for your group announcements and pictures. This will maintain your personal profile as personal space and help maintain safe boundaries with youth. This will also allow your church to display this Page with announcements on their site. (This is called embedding and is something you can turn over to your church webmaster.)
2. Set up policies for how you will interact with youth from your profile and announce those policies periodically.
For example, you can hide your wall and status updates from everyone under 18 by setting up Lists. This allows youth ministers to accept friend requests from youth and continue to maintain personal boundaries.
3. If setting up a group, invite all parents to be a part of that group, also.
An “open door” policy should be a part of any church practice. In the same way keep your group open to parents of youth. Your parents will be more responsive and active when they can also see what is going on in the Facebook group. If a topic comes up that is very sensitive then contact the youth by phone or face to face. Groups have the ability to be open, private or even secret. In all case minors parents should be invited to be a part of the group.
4. Make sure there are multiple adult administrators on your Facebook group or Facebook page.
This adds transparency and accountability.
5. When setting up a Facebook page, let the person who maintains your church website know.
They might want to integrate your posts from the Facebook page onto your church website. (This is called a “Facebook like box.”) Facebook like box works on most but not all websites. This feature allows you to post a youth ministry announcement on the Facebook page and automatically update the church website.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I easily move my Facebook group to a Facebook page?
As of right now, no. You have to share your Facebook page with the group. People can then “like” the page. Once your Facebook page has 25 “likes,” you can give it a simple username (e.g., www.facebook.com/THENAME) that is easier to share. Eventually,you can close the group.
I use my Facebook grouproup to make announcements to my youth (or, I have a second account just for youth ministry). Is that okay?
Of course it is. You can make any part if Facebook work how you want it to work, for example some youth groups have set up a fake profile as their youth group. These suggested practices are just one strategy for using Facebook in youth ministry. The suggested practices here are to help you use Facebook efficiently in your ministry as it was intended. If you use Groups, Pages and your Profile as they are intended, then when it is updated it is more likely to change with your ministry rather than work against your ministry.
What about Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Myspace and every other social network?
There is a lot of potential with these other social networks. I have focused on Facebook because as I am writing this it is nearing 1 billion accounts. Many youth are moving to Twitter. Expect a similar lesson plan with Google plus; with videoconferencing, it has some real possibilities. You can follow my blog at theholygeek.com for future updates.