Steph, a fellow outreach specialist, is convincing when we debate the impact of MySpace on young people.
My concern is that today’s young people are "virtualizing" their relationships through technology, and it’s not hard to believe they’ll come up short when they need interpersonal skills as spouses or parents. Steph concedes that possibility, but her own experience with MySpace has convinced her that there’s rich value there.
She looks at the social Web site through the eyes of an outreach specialist. As far as she’s concerned she can get into authentic conversations quicker because of her presence on MySpace, and she can work with unchurched kids through this world of Internet activity.
We evangelism types are wired to show up wherever young people can be found — this helps us get involved with lost kids in order to hand-deliver God’s love. When Steph found out that the girls she was trying to reach, and their friends, had MySpace sites, she was there. Evangelistically effective youth workers watch for open doors all over the place, alert to the fact that God provides many unpredictable ways to connect with non-Christians.
MySpace offers us a chance to see how kids like to be known. The discovery phase in the evangelistic process is when we begin to get a clear picture of what really makes a teenager tick. MySpace gives kids the chance to make statements about their lives. Who are their friends? What are their interests? What do their friends say about them? What are they doing? And — if they blog — what are they thinking? Outreach experts always start with the obvious to learn more about where a young person is coming from. But details provided at a MySpace site take us far beyond what we might discover when we ask someone about a T-shirt slogan.
MySpace gives us a chance to represent ourselves as we would like to be known. Some might think the most faithful followers of Christ would show their "true colors" on their MySpace sites, but Steph wants her home page to be a bridge, not a billboard. She wisely reveals a lot of common interests to MySpace traffickers, but distinguishes herself by talking about her love for Jesus. She wants to be known — not as a perfect Christian, but as a devoted follower of
Christ who lives in the same world facing the same challenges as everyone else.
I can relate.
MySpace provides conversational opportunities. Steph can see what her girls write, or what others write. And it’s easy to follow up — "Hey, what’s up with that Friday night party you wrote about?" or "Yo, your blog was a bummer yesterday; what’s going on?" She feels like she gets into spiritual conversations much quicker because the MySpace site alerts her to what’s really going on.
That seems smart.
I guess I’m convinced. As I listen to Steph I think that Paul’s instructions from Colossians 4:2-6 might enrich our MySpace outreach excursions:
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Go to my own MySpace site and see what you think.
dave is a longtime youth worker and youth ministry professor at Huntington University. He also serves as vice president of Youth For Christ and is author of Contagious Faith (Group). He lives in Indiana. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.