I don’t know about the rest of you, but my Facebook and Twitter blew up yesterday. It hasn’t been since Steve Jobs died that so many of my friends and followers were all posting about the same thing. If you’ve been living under a social media rock (particularly possible if you gave up Facebook for Lent), then here are the basics:
A non-profit activist group called Invisible Children released a campaign called Kony 2012. It is designed to increase awareness and drum up U.S. support for the continued presence of U.S. military advisors in Uganda whose aim is assisting the Ugandan army in capturing a nasty, evil warlord named Joseph Kony. The video IC released has had over 2.1 million hits – it went crazy viral.
According to some stats I read this morning, the video is most popular among the following demographic groups: Females 13 – 17, Males 18 – 24, and Males 13 – 17. Those stats closely correspond to the trends I saw on my own Facebook wall. The teens I know went nuts over this video.
They were posting it on Facebook and Twitter, they were creating events to blanket our town in Kony 2012 posters, and they were encouraging each other to donate time and money to the cause. Probably most telling, though, is that they were talking about it offline as well. At the regional basketball final last night, I overheard many teens talking about Kony 2012 and how they could support it during the game.
The social media firestorm that this video has created has raised some important questions for me about how well my parish youth ministry is engaging these same teens.
How is our parish youth ministry offering the teens opportunities to engage in changing the world?
Teens want to be engaged in changing the world. For most of us in youth ministry this isn’t a surprise. We’ve seen how compassionate teens can be and how much time and energy they are willing to give to something they believe in. Most of the world (or at least, most of my parish), however, doesn’t see this.
They believe teens to be self-centered adolescents who care only about their immediate circle of friends and family and frequently make poor decisions. The Kony 2012 campaign serves to remind all of us of the incredible capacity for empathy that teenagers have and how hard they are willing to fight (even in the face of criticism) for a cause they believe is worthy.
How does our parish youth ministry help teens to connect emotionally with their faith?
The Kony 2012 video is highly emotionally charged. Footage of children who were abducted and forced to do the unspeakable, interviews where these children talk about the atrocities they’ve witnessed, and an epic sweeping soundtrack moved many teens that watched this video to tears. We only need to look at the fact that so many of them watched a full 29 minute video online (where anything over 2 minutes usually loses their attention) to see how this video was able to tug on their heart strings. When we engage the hearts of the teenagers, we find them inspired to incredible action – whether that is in social activism or spreading the Good News.
What is our call to action?
Another reason the Kony 2012 video is so successful is that it has an incredibly specific call to action. After engaging their emotions and encouraging them to do something to help the situation, Invisible Children gives these teens a very specific task, “Share this video on Facebook and Twitter” with a very specific purpose, “So that other Americans can be aware of what’s happening and can push for the US to stay involved until Joseph Kony is captured.” The video shows teens exactly how their small action (sharing a video on Facebook) can have an impact on the issue.
Too often in youth ministry I think our call to action is too vague. How can we make sure our call to action is more specific and how can we show them that their small actions (inviting a friend to Mass, or saving themselves until marriage) can have an impact in making our world a better place?
How do we follow up after their initial engagement?
The biggest criticisms of the Kony 2012 campaign have been that it does not present the full picture. The situation in Uganda (and the other affected parts of Africa) is far more complex than just going in and getting rid of “the bad guy”. There are political, economic and historical factors not considered. There is an infrastructure that needs to rebuilt. There are pros and cons to Invisible Children’s use of financial resources and their plans to help the ground. There is just so much we don’t know and it is hard to make good decisions about what to do in light of the many talking heads who are trying to give their input.
Engaging teens in their faith is not much different. They often make an initial connection after a particularly emotional experience of prayer or on retreat. They leave these experiences on fire and ready to jump with both feet into discipleship. But there is so much more to the picture of what it means to be a disciple than just the emotional connection. Our ministry needs to help educate (catechize) teens about all of the factors at play in the Christian faith and point them toward the resources and decisions that will help them live out the commitment they made after their initial connection.
I haven’t decided yet exactly how I feel about the Kony 2012 campaign because I don’t know nearly enough about what’s really going on in Uganda to make an educated decision. I do know that I’m going to encourage my teens to be prudent and try to point them to resources that they can use to educate themselves. I know that I am going to encourage their zeal for wanting to make this world a better place. Most importantly, I am going to try to learn from the incredibly effective marketing of this campaign to figure out how I can do a better job of reaching teens.
What about you? What lessons about youth ministry are you learning from the Kony 2012 campaign?