While The Salvation Army USA South has used social media to promote the mission of the organization, generate funds to support its work, and even to win others to the Lord, one usage has gone largely untapped: discipleship. That’s where the North-South Carolina Division is changing the game.
With its newly-launched website, www.nscyouth.com, the NSC Division has created a safe space for teens and young adults to “get real” about church hot topics and their everyday life through online conversations posted to the site’s blog.
“We wanted to create a community with our kids, young adults and youth leaders … and make it more intimate than Facebook. The problem with Facebook is if they speak their minds, they can be de-friended. We wanted to make a space where people could share their heart in an open forum, and so that’s where the functionality of this website came about,” said Captain Burl LaBatte, divisional youth secretary.
The initiative began as a question about how to share what the NSC Division’s Blood & Fire workers were doing locally. Major Willis Howell, divisional commander, gave permission to get flip cameras for all the Blood & Fire workers. What the workers record can be uploaded to the site, which launched in January 2012, to share not only what is happening in ministry, but also to share their testimonies.
Anyone can submit a video testimony to Captain LaBatte or Chris Flanagan for review. They are edited and uploaded to the site with the help of its technical guru, Desmond Smith. On the blog, Blood and Fire workers write regular posts about real life. Young adults and youth post a stream of online conversations about topics such as the uniform debate, whether or not video games should be censored and what happens when we choose not to participate with God in what he is doing in our lives.
“Too many times we send our kids off to college, and we don’t talk about the questions the world is asking,” said Captain LaBatte. Topics of blog posts are directed by what the youth are already talking about. While the site is monitored for offensive language, for the most part, said Captain LaBatte, the conversation is allowed to stand. “We want people to be able to be honest.”
Other aspects of the site include a prayer request tab, tabs for leaders to access resources and tabs for youth and young adults to find out about upcoming events. There are plans to roll all the divisional websites under this site. In the future, Flanagan and LaBatte hope to have a store section and online tutorials where youth leaders can watch a video and receive training on different topics. Right now, the division uses social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to begin a conversation and then drive traffic to www.nscyouth.com to continue the conversation. That way, youth have their own tab for blog comments, and young adults have theirs. It creates freedom of expression in an environment of acceptance.
The divisional youth councils were recorded and posted to the site recently, and Captain LaBatte said he received feedback from a young person who thanked him for posting it because he or she couldn’t attend. That person also submitted a request for prayer.
“We may not see them face to face, but that’s one more way we can interact with them,” said Captain LaBatte.
By Brooke Turbyfill
SOUTHERN SPIRIT STAFF