Digital Parish: Youth ministry in the digital parish

How have the emergence of digital-first culture and the cultural developments related to COVID-19 affected youth ministry? Are there ways we can utilize digital environments to safely and responsibly connect with young people? Chris Wilterdink of UMC Discipleship Ministries joins Pastoring in the Digital Parish to share some ideas about youth ministry in digital space.

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Show Notes 

Ready to check out the Crash Courses in Youth Ministry from Chris and UMC Discipleship? They're free!

Keep up to date with the latest developments in youth ministry through the Youth Worker Collective podcast which Chris hosts alongside Jeremy Steele.

Other episodes of Pastoring in the Digital Parish that center on young people and digital culture:


Ryan Dunn (00:01):

This is Pastoring in the Digital Parish, your resource for community and insights for ministry in the digital realm. I'm Ryan Dunn, the host of this podcast and fellow practitioner of digital ministry. How have the emergence of digital first culture and the developments of the last couple years impacted youth ministry? And are there ways we can utilize digital environments for making safe and responsible connections with young people?

We're diving into youth ministry with Chris Wilterdink on this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish. Chris is the director of young people's ministries development at UMC Discipleship Ministries. He has over 15 years of local church, youth ministry experience. And Chris is passionate about leadership and faith development and young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. Along with Jeremy Steele, Chris hosts the Youth Worker Collective podcast.

Now let's meet Chris Wilterdink, our adjunct professor for this session of Pastoring in the Digital Parish.

Chris speaking from your kind of top down view of youth ministry, how has the scope of youth ministry changed over the past couple of years?

Chris Wilterdink (01:18):

Well, gee, it's not like anything has changed in the last two years, right? Mm-Hmm <affirmative> we are all living life, just like we did back in 20 18, 20, 19, totally fine pre pandemic world. And right now are exactly the same. Right. Which is completely false. <Laugh> and

Ryan Dunn (01:38):

Right as we talk to each other from a couple thousand miles away and right.

Chris Wilterdink (01:43):

Yeah, exactly. Like it's totally normal that you and I are having this conversation from your sound studio and me in my home office. Yeah. Right. So anyway, yes. To answer your question, everything has changed in the last two to three years related to youth ministry and church leaders and, and other folks that are familiar with leading ministries in other areas, some of this is gonna sound very similar, right. That you don't know what to do when you can't gather physically. There were youth ministries that were really based around the idea of being able to, to gather, to play games, to yeah. Create community and make fellowship that way. And all of a sudden the, that was taken away. And you know, as of our recording of this, people are starting to be able to come back and do those things again.

Chris Wilterdink (02:33):

But the leaders of those ministries have learned a bunch of lessons over the last couple of years. You know, that, that I think really are going to stay they're, they're gonna stick it. It drilled down to sort of like the relational core of youth ministry and really forced youth ministers to approach how to build and maintain relationships with their youth and with their parents and volunteers in a digital way, in addition to an in-person way. So that that's one big way that youth ministry has changed. One of the other ones really, and I dunno how much we'll talk about it today or not, but in terms of mental health and, and stress and fatigue among young people, that really has been a growing area for youth leaders to get some education and specialization in. And some of that has been pandemic related as well, right?

Chris Wilterdink (03:24):

That, that the young people who all of a sudden, could not go to church anymore and participate in youth ministry also were changing how they were learning. Right. you didn't have in-person school. All of a sudden you had this digital school piece that you tried to do for youth that worked great. For some youth that were great in the in-person piece, really struggled with this new digital way of doing it. And the feelings of isolation and loneliness and some of those things that can be very normal for a teenager to experience tended to get magnified pretty significantly over the last two to three years because of the physical distancing and lockdowns and those pieces as well.

Ryan Dunn (04:03):

So how have you seen some youth leaders come alongside some students who are kind of dealing with some of that mental stress?

Chris Wilterdink (04:12):

That's a great question. Really this is one of the places that the right digital platforms have been helpful that they've been able to kind of crew create micro communities or communities within their youth ministry based around pretty specific topics. There's maybe three or four churches, honestly, that just off the top of my head, I know have kind of jumped in with both feet to using discord which is something that I would not have been familiar with when I, the youth ministry, because I'm starting to turn into an old man. However, I know that discord is a place to talk and it originated with the gamer community, right? It, it was a way to connect people as they interacted with games and source material. And the, the set of honestly is pretty brilliant because you can create different channels and really have not only the youth leader, whether they're paid or volunteer or a handful of adult volunteers that, you know, kind of know, and care and have been trained about how to interact safely with young people online to create channels where there's like mental health channels.

Chris Wilterdink (05:17):

And, and check-in times where there's this written running record of the chats that are in discord. And so it, it informs how youth leaders can pray for their young people or remind them to check in about very specific sorts of you know, things that are going on in their lives. Also in addition to setting up those good platforms, I should also mention that, you know, some youth leaders have really gone full in and kind of pursued counseling and those sorts of pieces. But that mental health piece is one where it's also really important for youth leaders to recognize, you know, maybe if they are not trained as a counselor recognizing when the right times to be able to refer and connect to other pastors or other people in their community that would care for those young people.

Ryan Dunn (06:01):

Yeah. In mentioning discord, I, I'm not terribly involved in discord because, you know, it's kind of like you, I'm on the, the upper end of the age range there. I like my people aren't in discord. And, and that has kept me from really engaging heavily on that platform form are a lot of students current students. So, you know, 14 to 18 years old, are they involved in discord?

Chris Wilterdink (06:25):

I would say yes. I will also offer that up with a caveat. And that is for as long as there have been teenagers, teenagers have been great about go where adults are not.

Ryan Dunn (06:39):


Chris Wilterdink (06:40):

Right. Okay. Like if that, if, if that was fifties and sixties, like, you know, they're going to the soda shop, right. Or, or, you know, seventies, they're going to the roller rink, eighties, they're going to the mall. Young people go where adults aren't so that they can sort of discover their own independence and their agency. And as the digital world has gotten bigger and bigger and bigger there is just no way that the adults can be everywhere that young people are simply because so many things like rise and fall and popularity, and who is using what and who is where. So, I mean, we could spend some time I'm throwing out names of PLA like discord Snapchat TikTok would be another big one right now. Facebook is for people that are my age, right. That are a little bit older even Twitter. Right. But, and I'm only naming the big ones, right? Those are maybe five to 10 of the huge ones and every there's a new platform or a new place for young people to connect. So, you know, digital youth ministry isn't necessarily as much about the, which platforms you're on, as opposed to how the youth leader is able to interact, given the mediums where the youth allow them to be, or where the youth youth allow connections to get made.

Ryan Dunn (08:01):

Hmm. So for a youth leader, who's moving into a new platform, and I guess we have to get platform specific on something like this, because on discord you can set up a server and ask students to become a part of that. That that's kind of easy on something that isn't quite as com immunity oriented, like TikTok, how might a youth leader who's moving into that space start to engage with students in a non creepy way. <Laugh>,

Chris Wilterdink (08:29):

<Laugh>, that's always the big question, right? How do we do that in a not creepy way? One of the ways is how you initiate the relationship or, or how the, you know, account you're using gets set up something that we recommend in our crash course for digital youth ministry which is a, a free publication that's offered up through young people's ministries of the United Methodist church. You can download it at THEC discipleship store is that we really encourage whether it's volunteers or staff, if you're leading a youth ministry, go ahead and create an official youth ministry account or use an official church account to interact with members of your church or members of your youth ministry. It helps to draw a line between what is sort of being done in an official capacity on behalf of the church or on behalf of the ministry and what might happen to be personal.

Chris Wilterdink (09:24):

Right. Okay. One of the places, particularly for younger youth leaders that might just be getting started and may not have a sense of you know, what boundaries look like between, and what's personal and what's professional, or this was just me being me. And this was you know, me wearing my church hat or something like that is to go ahead and set up that official account and, you know, limit the interactions that you have with your personal account, because you wanna be able to have your personal space as well and for live links to an official church account that way you can put the invitations out there and say, Hey, this is the account name. This is who we are, you as the youth, or you as the parent need to be the one to initiate the connection with us. Okay. And we'll like, accept a friend request. We will say, yes, we'd love to be connected with you, you know, whatever the language is <affirmative>. But that official account is not the one that reaches out and starts to like put creepy fingers out there and say, oh, yes, I want to talk to you. And I want to talk to you and we need to be connected with this. So th that's one way I would recommend getting started.

Ryan Dunn (10:31):


Chris Wilterdink (10:31):

I, I would also, I guess I can add and it kind of piggybacks off that other piece. Like, don't try to be everywhere. Use, use something like link tree where you can have a homepage for your ministry, and you can put that in the bios for different accounts, right? Like if if it's something like TikTok, particularly that is really driven by music and motion and video there's no way that you could put the right amount of links in each of those posts to be able to steer youth or families where they need to go. So add the link to your youth ministry in your bio for whatever account you've set up and always point people to that. And that's the one place you keep everything updated.

Ryan Dunn (11:13):

Hmm. Yeah. That's good advice. Especially since TikTok doesn't allow for native links. Right. So you would have to type out the full HTL address.

Chris Wilterdink (11:21):

Yeah. And it'd be the same thing in Insta, right? Like Instagram stuff, exact same thing.

Ryan Dunn (11:26):

Yeah. Nobody's gonna do that. <Laugh> yeah. Well, in talking about the ways that that youth leaders begin to occupy this digital space maybe one of the blessings, but also one of the curses of, of digital ministry is that it's something to that's easily engaged with on our own. Right. So I can, as a single youth leader can can reach out and engage with students almost, almost blindly, like where, where there's not a whole lot of eyes on what I'm doing. Right. So are there ways that we need to be aware of where we are engaging with students in a digital realm where we're still accountable? Much like we would be in, like in person, we have our two deep rules, right. What are ways that we can cross that over into like the digital space?

Chris Wilterdink (12:18):

Yeah. It, it's a great question. And it, it really gets down to transparency. Right. I, I think that that's the, the angle that we have to try to take. And if your church uses something like safe sanctuaries or safe gatherings, min safe, there, there's a whole family kind of, of different language around abuse prevention and, and risk reduction. But I'll use safe sanctuaries cuz that's the one that, that I get to help manage and monitor and create new things for. And yes, that too deep rule is having two unrelated adults in the same space as young people, so that you avoid risky situ rearing their heads and ending up with like a, he said, she said, or, you know, one party versus another party sort of a thing. Yeah. I mean, digital ministry, if you're taking that first suggestion, I said of setting up an official church account, you can have multiple administrators or multiple moderators who would be the responsible adults that you've trained and feel confident in to be able to moderate discussions and help you stay on top of the conversations that are taking place there.

Chris Wilterdink (13:22):

One of the other ones really is making sure that you're trying to use platforms that offer some way of recording chats or keeping a record of conversations to go back to discord. That's something discord is pretty great about because it's like a running chat within each channel that you would set up within the server. That would be something that Snapchat would be very bad at. So, you know, how do you create transparency and a platform that is designed around deleting messages? Yeah. That I don't know. So I, I do not encourage youth workers to like set up a church Snapchat and have snap streaks with people.

Ryan Dunn (14:00):

Yeah. Okay. Well, Snapchat itself as a platform is not something that's really conducive to an institutional entity anyway, <laugh> as I've found true. So, so it's not in terms of trying to represent brand so to speak. It's kind of a tough medium for, for being able to do something like that. So all that goes to say that maybe because of that and the accountability issues that can come out through it, like Snapchat might not be the best ministry platform for us to start engaging. And we wanna look for some place where, where we can be a little bit more relatable. And I like this idea that you've introduced of of using, I guess, the platform of the entire faith community. So if we're looking to engage with students, like we wanna make sure that we're doing that from the youth ministry official account or the church official account. And part of the reason why I like that is because there's been this rising trend in youth ministry really for like the last decade and a half, but it continues to and momentum a little bit more and more each year of being aware of how we're being cross-generational with how we're relating to young people and kind of Des siloing all of our different age groups. Right. So have you seen some churches or ministries really encourage some cross-generational relationships through digital ministry?

Chris Wilterdink (15:33):

Oh, absolutely. Whether that has been sort of in the model of covenant discipleship groups or smaller accountability groups that's been a model that has actually lent itself to digital interaction pretty well because you're already sort of working within a small group and trying to keep each other accounted able to how you'd like to grow spiritually. Actually there's a, a three part series of books about covenant discipleship and I'll have to pull the links, but I wrote one of them it's called everyday discipleship, covenant discipleship with youth. There's a children's ministry version called growing everyday disciples. And then Steve and scar will have to forget me for forgetting his very long title for like the church leader or full adult version of that resource. But those three things kind of work in concert to set up smaller groups.

Chris Wilterdink (16:23):

And, and, you know, when you and I were talking in preparation for this as well, you mentioned sort of the beauty of the smaller church and the family aspect that some of that intimacy that can grow in small groups that sometimes larger churches try to replicate, but smaller churches that are healthy seem to be pretty naturally good at. So, you know, digital pieces that encourage that interaction really has been pretty awesome. There's definitely some examples from Penn DEIC time because when people started, you know, broadcasting their worship services sometimes for the first time what they learned pretty quickly is that the young people in their midst who were used to doing that all the time were very natural at being able to create interactions during the worship service, right? Like it, if you were trying to live live stream something on Facebook, what better place was there for a young person than to have access to the account where they could chat with people and ask for prayers and have some back and forth during that worship time.

Chris Wilterdink (17:28):

And it really created a, a stream where, you know, the idea of cross-generational stuff, inter generat stuff it became part of the conversation about mentoring. And so in, in the pandemic, you know, really young people almost were looked at as mentors for the rest of the church to say, oh my gosh, we need to be in this new virtual or this new digital space. How do we do that? Well, and you've got people that have grown up doing it, and it makes this really interesting, like, you know, modern day sort of twist on when I would help my parents program their VCR.

Ryan Dunn (18:05):


Chris Wilterdink (18:08):

If that makes any sense, right. Cause I'm old enough. Yeah. That, you know, my parents had no idea how to change the clock or to programmers set up their VCR to work with our 32 inch Zenni tube TV. That was like huge at the time. And now it's, it would be nothing at all. But it it's that same sort of thing, right? Where there's this water that digital natives kind of swim in and whether it's older pastors or older congregations, there's a real opportunity for the younger generation to mentor, which is really cool. And honestly, I think is one of the best things about church relationships when you've got mentoring that goes both ways because you've got young people that are trying to find their way, right. They, they have lived through a crazy couple of years and are trying to figure out what in the world their life is gonna look like and what their world is gonna look like.

Chris Wilterdink (18:56):

And if they've got relationships and connections with a church community, whether those are in person or digital with folks who are in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, and can say, you know what, I, I remember when I was 20 and I know a different world, but here's how I got through it. That's a really cool mentoring coming from that direction. And then, Hey, this is how the metaverse works. Or this is why NFTs are worth the insane amount of imaginary money that they are. <Laugh> going the other way really is pretty cool too.

Ryan Dunn (19:30):

Yeah. Okay. It, that is exciting to think about, especially in terms of, of ways that we talk about involving youth within the life of the congregation. There's a, there's an easy trap in that we kind of push youth towards doing the jobs that, that maybe nobody else wants to do, which makes them feel inva or not valued. Right. so asking them to like, say, Hey, will you set up our discord server? Or can we put you in charge of just interacting and saying hello to people during the livestream? There's, there's an implied value there that really communicates something coming from the, the ministry that that's important for students.

Chris Wilterdink (20:15):

Yep. I'd agree. And, and being able to step back and say these young people have something to teach me. Right. Like, mm-hmm, <affirmative> teach me, help me. Man, is that empowering for a young person to be able to hear?

Ryan Dunn (20:28):

Yeah, <laugh>, you know, I, I work for the communications agency and there comes with that a an assumption that I know all things communications. Right. But I was trying to do something on TikTok just this morning that somebody else had done. And I I didn't know how she was doing it. I just had to reach out and say like, Hey, how did you splice that video together? Because I can't figure it out. <Laugh> so,

Chris Wilterdink (20:52):

And it's awesome. Right? Like it, it is, yeah. It's empowering and it's uplifting. And I, I think that, you know, in general, we've grown past the place where everybody just thinks that social media is super duper evil. I mean, I, I know that there are some places that and people that might still think that at the same time, it it's not going anywhere. Right. Like the, the things that were created during pandemic and lockdown and video platforms and social media pieces, I mean, tho those are not going to disappear. And so if we are to be in ministry with all generations, the digital space is a place we have to be able to engage in and engage in. Well and one of the ways that we can do that is recognizing when somebody's doing something great. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> and lift that up within our own context. Right?

Ryan Dunn (21:40):

Yeah, absolutely. Well, you do a fair amount of consulting. So if I were to come with you, come to you, you say with the, the discipleship covenant curriculum, and say like, I wanna put a group together. That's gonna be all digital. So we're, we're gonna meet primarily online. Where might I begin with that? How would I facilitate those meetings?

Chris Wilterdink (22:03):

Oh, sure. So if people aren't familiar with covenant design in a nutshell John Wesley and his holy club kind of started off this methodical way of living out their faith, which is where we get our name. So there you go free trivia for when you're at drinking your non-alcoholic beer at your that's, right. Not par trivia night, but part of that was you know, asking that their group asking how each other's Christian actions were informing how they were growing, right. They, they wouldn't get together and say, okay, what are you doing to make your faith? What it is they would get together and say, how is your doing, affecting what you believe and how you're of it? So there would be this list, and, and when you're starting a covenant discipleship group, if you're meeting virtually honestly, that's what I do with my covenant discipleship group that I'm in.

Chris Wilterdink (23:00):

There's one person that lives up in Michigan, one person that lives in Georgia, one person that lives in Tennessee one person that commutes back and forth from Texas to Tennessee, and then me all the way out in Colorado. So we can only do it digitally, but what we do is we have a, a covenant that we've agreed to, and it has like, you know, seven or eight things that we try to do during the week. And every week we get back together and say, okay, so here is what I did for, you know, my prayer life. This is what my prayers look like this week. This is what I've been praying for. This is what would it made me think of? We've got kind of a social justice piece as well. So in our covenant, we look at and say, you know, we're, we're trying to do things that are good for the earth.

Chris Wilterdink (23:40):

Good. Kind of, for all of creation and also engage the political community and, and how are we interacting locally or nationally with political leadership to be able to make this world a little bit more like God would wish it to be. And so we talk about those things, right? Like, Hey, here's a couple of the petitions that I signed, because I believe in, you know, that, that we should be headed that way. I placed a call to my I Congress person or my Senator or I interacted with my local school board. Right. It, it encourages action. And, and really that's what covenant discipleship is all about those action pieces and the chance to reflect on what those things are. So digitally. If you've got a group who's interested, put the feelers out there and say, Hey, we want a regular time that we would try to meet every week.

Chris Wilterdink (24:25):

We'll use zoom, we'll use whatever video conference platform we're comfortable with. Here's the five, six things that we wanna try to do every week. And as long as we start on time and promise that we won't go over 45 minutes I think almost everybody can find it in their schedule. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> if you're gonna make one of those groups cross generational, this is a easy reminder, but put those meetings at times that children and youth can do them. Because adults love to put them during the day when youth or kids are in school and they can't do that. So if, if you want young people to be able to participate, you may have to like talk to the adults in the group of about saying, Hey, so we're gonna find time to do this on a Saturday or a Sunday, or maybe even during the week, but after school, you know, so everybody can do it.

Ryan Dunn (25:16):

And do you find that students are willing to participate in something that's on zoom?

Chris Wilterdink (25:21):

They're a little bit tired of zoom. Okay. To be honest with you. But I will say they're never tired of doing something that's meaningful to them. Okay. The, the platform is not as important as if it's a value building kind of a thing because life is getting busy again. Right. One of the gifts of the pandemic was sort of the stripping away of the busyness because sports and drama groups and choirs and everything I else went away. And now it's really starting to be built back up again. And people are being very choosy with what they do. And, and I don't know if you've seen this in your context or not, but like, if it's not worth my time, it's not gonna get my time. You know, mm-hmm <affirmative> and church is not immune to that either just like sports groups or, or performance groups or anything like that.

Ryan Dunn (26:07):

You yeah. Hmm. Have you heard from some youth ministers who are bemoaning a dropoff in, in participation?

Chris Wilterdink (26:17):

Absolutely. <laugh> okay. Yeah. as a matter of fact, I was just at a conference earlier this month with a group of youth ministers from some larger are churches. And, and those are churches that worship like a thousand or more on a weekend on average. And so I know that's not everybody for sure. But there's some very unique challenges that come with that stuff. And when you're a church of that size, often success is measured in numbers for better or for worse. And coming back from the pandemic, nearly everybody in that group said that their groups are somewhere between 40 to 60% of what they were pre pandemic. Yeah. And some of them felt really good about where things were going and the trajectory that they were on for having people come back and others were very nervous. And I think that's the same for, you know, really pastors and church leaders as well. I, I don't know the statistics for churches in general, but I, I think everybody, almost everybody is down right now.

Ryan Dunn (27:16):

Yeah. So those youth leaders who are seeing just about 40% of their groups coming back, what are they dreaming of in turn of engaging the students who have either slipped away or a whole new population of students?

Chris Wilterdink (27:31):

Oh, yeah. So great question. In terms of like engaging people who have not been connected with the church before, I think that's a tremendous opportunity right now. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> and honestly, if we're looking at this discipleship systems or hopes for, you know, churches looking at Jesus' example of where Jesus spent time with people that were outside the religious institutions of his day there was always fruitful efforts, right? It, it was connections with people that don't have a connection with the church yet. So be, you know, being creative and getting out into the community, I think has been one youth ministers recognizing that it's not their physical space that makes the youth ministry happen. It is the energy of the relationships and getting out into the community and being places where young people are has sort of received a new focus.

Chris Wilterdink (28:23):

And that's been really awesome to see. I, I love the sort of models that are cropping up that almost look like parish models, right? Where if a church is fortunate enough to staff somebody in youth ministry, they're able to staff a youth minister for the community as opposed to a youth minister for their church. Right. And so if they're 40 hours a week, maybe they're expected to be in the church for say 10 hours, right. Maybe leading some education classes and doing meetings and those kind of things, but 30 hours you know, what it spend 10 hours doing digital youth ministry and count it right as part of your position, because that's where young people are. And that's where the engagement needs to be a likewise if there's community events or schools, or, you know, places to build partnerships, look at that parish model and say, you know what, we're we care enough about young people that we don't just care about.

Chris Wilterdink (29:17):

The young people and their families that walk through the doors of our physical church, we care about those that are in our community. So how do we get our staff, our volunteers, or whoever we put in charge of our youth ministry pieces out into the community, whether that's in person or again, using digital platforms and being honest and saying, yeah, you know what, this is 15 hours of a week of digital youth ministry. And these are the relationships that are coming out because of it. These are the questions that we're getting. And that might, you know, steer the focus of worship series or Sunday school classes or anything like that based on the interactions and relationships you get from there.

Ryan Dunn (29:54):

Hmm. And how are they have they talked about some different ways that maybe they're trying to reach out in relationship online?

Chris Wilterdink (30:05):

Again, it, it would be hard to talk about this without getting too platform specific. Sure. Okay. A lot of it is started around interest areas, right? Like there are a ton of philosophy and spiritual direction and just question kind of groups. I might bring up Reddit actually Reddit is I guess, a social media platform, but it, it, it's lots of different things. But it's a safe place for people to ask questions anonymously. And so there's been some really interesting interactions for not only leaders, but also kind of spiritually mature youth to be able to engage in conversation in some of those online places where you get, you know, opinions and questions from all over the place.

Ryan Dunn (30:52):

Hmm. Yeah. Yeah. That's a great one. And

Chris Wilterdink (30:57):

Yeah, try and I'm trying to think of more, right. Like the way that Reddit works is like our slash whatever the topic is, is but it really, you know, for church leaders or folks that have not been in, on conversations that feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar, it's an amazing place to really get a broad perspective of what's going on out there in the world. And something else I, I should probably bring up as well as that, you know, doing digital youth ministry or, or trying to do any outreach stuff when you're doing that from sort of a Methodist theological perspective. The reason that we show love for each other or show care for each other or show love for the world is because God first loved us. Right. God loves people. And, and that means all the people. And that's a really tough one for me sometimes because I definitely don't love all people.

Chris Wilterdink (31:50):

There's some people that absolutely drive me nuts sometimes. And yet there is something that is important for me to be able to show love and care for people, even if I disagree with 'em or don't like them, or they seem unfamiliar to me because God loves them. And so, you know, whether you are the youth leader yourself, or you're equipping your young people to go out and sort of do some like digital evangelism or community outreach or connection that way, make sure that you're coming at it from that idea that God's primary attribute is love mm-hmm <affirmative>. And the reason that we do the things that we do, because God loved us first. And so it's important for us to show love and care for God and to show love and care for our neighbors.

Ryan Dunn (32:33):

Got a little preachy there, Chris <laugh> that'll take us on where's the amen corner. <Laugh>

Chris Wilterdink (32:38):

I mean, it happens sometimes. Yeah. Also this is a sidebar, but if somebody has to ask for an name in, I don't feel like it deserves the end. I feel like it just sort of needs to happen. And depending on what church, you know, context you're in, sometimes those are harder to pull out than others, but I D know that that's one that I care about a lot. If you couldn't tell <laugh>

Ryan Dunn (32:57):

That was me off or in the amen, which you haven't asked for it. <Laugh>. And it, I think that's a great invitation because as we think about how we might engage in like a new platform or media, probably one of the foremost questions that we wanna ask ourselves is not how we are engaging in this media for the purpose of grow our ministry, but maybe more so, how are we engaging in this media for the purpose of extending grace? Right, right. How can I be a representative of love and grace within the space that we're moving into? And I, I would especially supply that question for us in, in terms of going onto a space like Reddit, which can be a little confrontational. So if our, if our aim is to convince or argue, like we're gonna lose <laugh>. But if our, if our aim is to represent grace, like, I think, I think we're gonna do some good there. Yeah.

Chris Wilterdink (33:53):

And, and I'll follow that up, cuz that, that makes me think of something really specific, honestly, because you are right. It, it, digital interactions, whether you're on Reddit or anywhere else can turn toxic pretty quickly. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> so you have to be able to go in there with the idea that you're not gonna convince someone else, be they a stranger, or be they a friend that you're connected to somehow in 15 minutes of internet, arguing that they're gonna see everything the way that you see it at the same time. It's so important to not avoid those conversations. Right. Mm-hmm <affirmative> because I know plenty of people that just will not talk about things that are difficult because they're so worried about what it will bring up. And if you're able to be an agent of grace and bring that example with you, that is something that young people are looking for.

Chris Wilterdink (34:44):

Examples of young people are not looking for examples of adults who kind of wanna bury their head in the sand and not talk about difficult stuff. They are looking for adults who can listen, recognize converse <affirmative> and say, you know what, I'm in a different place than that. And here's why I am where I am. But give a good example of what it looks like to interact with somebody online, whether that's anonymous or it's somebody that, you know allow your church to be one of those places that engages in difficult conversations in a meaningful way and provide examples for young people to be able to follow because as bad as we are right now talking politics and religion and anything else, we're only gonna get worse at it when we don't practice. Yeah. That's good. So don't avoid like engage, but engage in that grace filled way that you were talking about.

Ryan Dunn (35:39):

Cool. Cool. Well, I feel like this is, has led us to a good landing place for this in terms of how we can move out in the world. Like, Hey, we've been Benedict as well. So <laugh> well done. Chris, for folks who do have questions about how they might I don't know, like explore some more ideas in digital space as, especially as it pertains to youth ministry, how might they get a hold of you

Chris Wilterdink (36:06):

For sure? Well, one United Methodist communications has awesome resources for all ages, as you well know, <laugh>

Ryan Dunn (36:14):

I've heard that.

Chris Wilterdink (36:15):

So I, so I always encourage people to kind check out the offerings that United Methodist communication puts together for my office. I'm the director of young people's ministries at discipleship ministries of the United Methodist church. And the way that you can find anything that we create for challenging and equipping the local church related to discipleship with young people, you would go to our website, which is U C young And there you would find kind of a wide variety of updated articles, conversation, pieces, free resources that hopefully allow those interested in engaging young people to, to be pretty effective at it. One of the specific things I would lift up is we recently published a series of 10 eBooks called the crash courses in youth ministry. One of them is specifically about digital youth ministry and each of those crash courses is written to be very short, intensely practical with the idea that you could like read it today in about an hour and put it into practice tomorrow, if you want to. So I really would encourage people to, to download those. And those were provided at no cost because of our awesome connectional system and, and the apportionment dollars that come from the United Methodist church. So I would encourage people to check those out as well.

Ryan Dunn (37:32):

Awesome. Well, Chris, thank you so much for lending your time to us today.

Chris Wilterdink (37:36):

Ryan appreciated a ton. Thanks.

Ryan Dunn (37:39):

A great follow up to this session would be our session with Nathan Webb about creating safe spaces online. Nathan goes into detail about the policies his all online ministry developed for safety and protection. Another good follow up episode would be our season one session with James Kang, titled “What is digital first ministry?” That session gives a good perspective on digitally native culture, which is of course the prevalent culture for young people.

I'm Ryan Dunn. I would like to thank, the online destination for leaders throughout the United Methodist Church. They make this podcast possible. And of course they host our website where you can find links to the training sessions Chris Wilterdink mentioned, and you can find more online resources for ministry.

I'll help you again. <Laugh> and I'll speak with you again in a new episode next week. In the meantime, peace to you.





On this episode

Chris Wilterdink of UMC Discipleship Ministries with Young People

Chris Wilterdink is Director of Young People's Ministries Development at UMC Discipleship Ministries. He has over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. Chris and Jeremy Steele co-host the Youth Worker Collective podcast..

Ryan Dunn, co-host and producer of the Compass Podcast

Our proctor/host is the Rev. Ryan Dunn, a Minister of Online Engagement for United Methodist Communications. Ryan manages the digital brand presence of Rethink Church, co-hosts and produces the Compass Podcast, manages his personal brand, and obsesses with finding ways to offer new expression of grace.

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