Dan’s 17-year old son was on a short-term mission trip to China. One morning he discovered a Facebook post from the night before saying his son Allen had been hit by a car. The entirety of the message was, “You won’t believe this, but Allen got hit by a car! They don’t do things the way we do at home – it’s crazy!!!” You can imagine Dan’s shock and worry. With the time change, and no available means for communicating to the team leader, all Dan could do was post an urgent question and hope someone would respond. It turns out that a taxi bumped into Allen on a busy street corner as traffic flowed in all directions. No one stopped, no one was hurt, no tickets, no drama. But Dan couldn’t have known that with the one post he had access to.
When I first starting going on short-term mission trips, FAX was barely available, making phone calls nearly impossible (or at least terribly expensive), and we had to carry cameras and film. Today, advances in technology, ease in using cell phones in any country, and the use of social media, have made staying in touch easier than ever. Pictures, videos, and short messages are posted by teams all throughout short-term mission trips.
Here are a few of the benefits of modern technology and social media:
- We know when team members miss a flight or have a new arrival time
- Churches and families experience the short-term mission in real time through pictures and posts
- New friends can keep in touch with each other no matter where they’re from or what language they speak
But there are a few risks as well:
- People can be distracted (games, pictures) or unengaged from the team (instant messaging others, looking at Facebook or Instagram)
- Sometimes people post things they shouldn’t (pictures and posts that offend or miscommunicate )
- Sending the wrong message (all fun and no ministry)
Here are six training tips that will help you prepare your team members for responsible use of cell phones and technology:
- Think of the The Ripple Effect: Social media reaches more than just your friends. Team members must realize that whatever they post will be seen by untold numbers of other people of all ages and backgrounds.
- Always make Stand-alone posts: Never post partial or incomplete messages that leave more questions than answers. Make sure the post has the framework and outcome so readers and viewers get the idea.
- Share Story-telling Pictures: Only post three to six photos at a time and make sure that at least two thirds of those pictures TELL A STORY.
- Plan for Impact messaging: Whatever you post in pictures or in writing, be sure you communicate the wonderful things happening with people and projects. Ask yourself, “Does it honor the people I’m serving with, the country where I’m serving, and the Lord?” Of course you can post fun/funny things, but use discretion - a lot of people will see what you post!
- You may need a Social Media Lock Down: Serious events mandate a full social media lock down until the situation is fully under control and team leadership and missionary hosts are prepared to communicate through all appropriate channels. Not until the situation is resolved and the correct people have been properly notified, will it be determined if and how much team members can communicate through social media.
- Enforce a NO-PHONE zone: If the use of cell phones is a bigger challenge with your team than you thought it would be, just call a no-phone zone and let people know when and where phones can and cannot be used.
- Appoint a qualified Social Media Coordinator. Someone you can depend on for the right kind of messages that can be posted on behalf of the team and ministry. And then give them time and permission to accomplish the task. This can really bring a focus to your communication to family and friends!
Here are examples of “dos and don’ts” for social media posting:
Don’t: “Sarah totally wiped out with two full buckets of wet cement! From the top of the ladder no less! LOL”
Do: "Sarah fell off a ladder along with two buckets of wet cement. Sarah was totally unharmed but cement flew everywhere, and now we have a hilarious memory that will be talked about at the orphanage for years to come!"
Don’t: “You won’t believe this, but Allen got hit by a car! They don’t do things the way we do at home – it’s crazy!!!”
Do: “Things are so different here! A taxi bumped into Allen on a busy street corner (no…he wasn’t hurt at all), but everybody acted like nothing happened and just kept going!”
Don’t: “We had our first cholera patient. No one wanted to see her or touch her or take care of her. But we did. Hope none of us gets it.”
Do: “Our clinic continues to see challenging cases, some more complicated than others. Please pray that we make good decisions and do all we can to be a witness for the Lord while helping people here.”
Social media, done well, is a great way to include others in the ministry and to gain prayer support! You just need to coach your team!