Modern technology is incredibly helpful it also creates some interesting issues that youth workers did not have to deal with “back in the day.” One of the frequent questions I see in youth ministry groups is all about cell phones. Many of your students are walking in with phones, but what do we do with them?
The answer all depends if you want students to have them or not. There are benefits to both perspectives. While some of you will say they are a huge distraction, others will say they are a tool we should help teens understand how to use wisely. I am not here to debate one side or the other. Instead, I wanted to provide some tips on both sides.
If you want the students to keep their phones but just use them wisely, here are a few tips:
Use YouVersion Bible app (or another Bible app) where you can. While you might want your students to use a paper-copy of the Bible, it’s important to also help them feel comfortable using a digital version. For the vast majority, they will be carrying a phone with them the rest of their lives, always having the Bible available. So consider encouraging them to pull out their phones and open to the Scripture on their Bible apps when it comes time to read.
Use YouVersion Live Events where they can take notes, read, etc. This is an amazing but not-so-well known free resource. You can setup an event on the YouVersion Bible website that students can access within the app (or mobile web) on their phone. You can populate it with message notes, Scriptures, fill-in-the-blanks, prayer requests, links to your upcoming event registrations, and more. Students can also take their own notes and save them afterward. We have also used this for song lyrics when we are meeting off-site, away from a computer and screen.
Use interactive elements. There are a ton of digital resources that allow for people to vote in polls, play games, and more. If students are going to have a phone in their hands, use it to your advantage. Give them an opportunity to provide feedback within your message, have them participate in a game by texting in answers, do a trivia game where they can answer on their phones, have them submit photos or videos… Honestly, there are so many ways you can utilize their phones to enhance what you do. Some places to start are Poll Everywhere, Crowd Control Games, and Kahoot. Just be aware that not all students will have a phone, so have an alternate plan for those students.
Even if you do all these well, you will still, of course, have students wanting to use their phones at the wrong time or using them improperly. So you should have a policy that is very clear for your team and students. On top of that, your team will need to know how to enforce the policy.
If you don’t want students to have their phones, one of the best ideas I’ve seen is having a charging areas with individual lockers, so they can lock their phone in there but also have it charging. A friend of mine purchased an used locker system online and used a ton of power strips, cables, and bricks to create this amazing charging station. You don’t have to go that elaborate, though. You could just provide a table with some charging bricks and cables. Over time, you just set this expectation, and students will naturally begin to drop their phones off when they enter the room.
If you have small groups in your ministry (and I suggest you do), it’s also important to think through phone usage in those environments. I’ve had the most success with leaders requiring all students to put their phones in the middle of the circle. The leaders can also take this a step further by placing their phones in the middle as well.
No matter what you decide for phones in your ministry, realize that a student’s relationship with Jesus comes first. Resist the urge to become so legalistic about technology that we miss the opportunity to share Christ with the students. If you have a student who is always misusing their phone, perhaps it’s time to have a conversation with them apart from your program and see what’s really going on. It’s most likely something much bigger than the phone.