Social Media, Youth Ministry


I spent the last week at my denomination’s marquee youth event, the Presbyterian Youth Triennium. This worship/study/play/rock fest gets staged every three years on the ginormous campus of Purdue University. It gathers over 5,000 youth from Presbyterian churches all over the country while also pulling in youth from global partner churches. This was my first experience of Triennium. In fact, it was my first experience of a church youth gathering of more than, say, 200 kids. I did that once.

John Vest has done some really thoughtful digesting of the event in recent days. This and this post and accompanying comments are really good. Since Yorocko is mostly interested in the “ministry in the media matrix,” I paid close attention to the various expressions of media brought to the event and how they affected what was going on. Here’s a simple review:

  • Video: in the opening worship service, there was a killer short film produced to introduce the “time” theme of the event. Clips from movies like “Back to The Future” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” were spliced into a soundtrack of pumping electronic music. It was invigorating, and the intensity of it built so that worshipers started cheering for movie clips they recognized and related. When the clip of Landon Donovan’s World Cup goal against Algeria popped up, I nearly left my seat. Later, a brief documentary film was shown to introduce Bill Nathan, who runs a home for street kids in Port Au Prince and who survived the January earthquake there. On two nights, animated movies were offered as recreation options.
  • Speech: each worship service featured a sermon. Two of these were roam-around-the-stage sermons with lots of personal anecdotes and accompanying images, and two of the preachers were nailed to the glass pulpit. Participants didn’t seem to me to be overly swayed by the former. They did seem surprisingly engaged by the latter.
  • Music: the worship band was a floppy-haired jean-clad outfit called The Great Romance. That is what it is. To their credit, they played through similar sets in each service, so that participants got to know them well enough to scream for their favorite lines. Like this one: “We were made for such a time as this/ to make a difference in the world we live.” Further, small group leaders were encouraged to play music before and during sessions, particularly U2’s “Pride (In The Name of Love). Preacher Graham Baird treated worshipers to an acapella rendition of that one. Ahem. Also, there was  a choir assembled of the participants. Their introduction was one of the more powerful moments of the week. (A final music note: organizers played a pop music soundtrack in the auditorium as youth gathered for worship, and if you’ve never been part of a thousand teens hijacking the Glee Cast’s “Don’t Stop Believin‘” for their own celebratory purposes, I can assure you it is positively doxological)
  • Drama: elaborate and finely performed dramas were produced at each worship service. These brought together the story of Esther and Jesus in illuminating ways. In the small groups, participants enacted scenes from the gospels in both comic and serious ways.
  • Visual Arts: the small group manual was built around paintings. Seriously. Small groups were asked to bring an Esther or gospel text into conversation with a painting like this and this.
  • Photography: pictures (and live videos) of the participants scrolled across the screens prior to worship. As expected, youth screamed and waved in delight when they saw themselves make the Big Time. Participants likely shot millions of photographs: of one another, of worship, of the rain–they shot it all. I found myself wondering about the nature of the worship experience at one point, when the powerful introduction of Bill Nathan set off a blizzard of flashbulbs throughout the auditorium. I found myself wondering, “Are we really experiencing this or merely documenting it? Are we documenting it to preserve it for ourselves or to share it with others? For adolescents, is documenting something now an essential part of experiencing it?”
  • Text: participants engaged the Biblical text in small groups, reading aloud lengthy excerpts from Esther and the gospels. Calls to Worship and Prayers of Confession were projected and read responsively and in unison during worship.
  • Social Media: there was a vibrant conversation happening on Twitter all week under the hashtag #pyt2010. Preacher Bruce Reyes-Chow even showed Triennium-related tweets to worshipers on-screen during worship. That was about the extent to which social media was taken up by the organizers of the event and incorporated into the content of the event. Of course, participants were texting and sharing pictures and videos with each other all week.

Triennium is a smorgasbord of media. Sorting out the good and bad of it might be an impossible task, but I think it’s worth holding up the best uses, since it’s obviously here to stay.


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