South African youth pastor Andrew Vaughn has launched a creative effort to share Scripture with young people via social media. In an interview with MAI staff intern Emma Stencil, Andrew describes his creation of “the WordSpace,” which sends youth short Bible readings and reflections using free mobile and online social media platforms.
What was the inspiration for this initiative?
As a youth pastor I was looking for a way to help young people in my youth group connect with God through the Bible during the week. They told me they often had short spaces of time before or during school but nothing to guide them. I started thinking of a way to send them something they could access on their phones. The problem was that many students used different social media platforms. It would be a huge effort to manually send a message to so many different platforms.
So I started researching a way to automatically send messages to all the various free cell-phone platforms in South Africa. I couldn’t find any existing program that met these needs, so over the past months we developed a web-based platform that can preschedule and automatically send short Bible texts and reflections to seven different free cell phone platforms.
Who is your target audience for these messages?
We aim to connect with youth in high school (13 to 18 years old) throughout South Africa.
How do you choose the topics for your short messages?
People tend to tune out if it’s the same thing every day, so we want to send content that is varied and balanced. Our subscribers aren’t going to tune in every day, so the messages also need to be independent of each other. Right now we are rotating messages around seven different topics–one for each day of the week. These are:
#whoisGod? – something about the nature of God
#Godsviewofyou – something the Bible says about our identity in Christ
#faithworks – what it means to live a life of faith in the real world
#yoursoundtrack – inspiring lyrics from a Christian worship song and some reflections submitted by a reader
#Fridayfeedback – a reflective prayer helping people look back on the week
#wisewords – some wisdom from the book of Proverbs
#GodsStoryNow – this is written ‘on the fly’ in response to a significant event that has happened that week
Every now and then we run a special focus week on a particular topic. For instance, during exam season we did a week focusing on helping people encounter God as they study. We planned a focus week on Christmas during mid-December, and so on.
Who writes the daily messages?
We’re building a team of writers that reflects the cultural and denominational diversity of South Africa. We started by approaching youth leaders who had experience in writing for young people in other Scripture Union publications. Almost everyone we’ve approached has been willing to give this new format a try. As the project grows we’re adding writers to the team.
How have readers responded to the messages?
The response has been very positive. We have run focus groups to gauge how readers interact with the content. This has helped us learn how to write more effectively. We began a trial phase in late August 2011 with around 100 subscribers on BBM and Facebook. Over three months grew to over 800 across the various platforms.
How do you tell people about the WordSpace?
At the moment it’s mostly word of mouth and through Scripture Union’s networks. We are planning a national launch and advertising campaign in February 2013.
What is the most challenging part of this new ministry?
At the start, the challenges were mostly about establishing a reliable technical infrastructure. Now we’re focusing on the challenge of writing content that will impact people in a short space of time. The opportunity that a mobile platform presents for reaching young people with God’s word anywhere comes with the associated challenge of being heard in a noisy and instant media environment. We sometimes have as little as 15 to 30 seconds to get our message across to our readers. Writing something that is theologically and biblically sound, relevant and interesting enough to keep a young person scrolling through the message in that environment is a big challenge.
Here’s how people can subscribe to the WordSpace:
• BBM: add 2A3E62A2 to receive a broadcast message each day
• Whatsapp: add 084 891 6789 (South Africa code +27) as a contact. Message ‘subscribe’ to register
• Facebook: like our page ‘Thewordspace’
• Twitter: follow @wordspacedevos
• Email: send a message with ‘subscribe’ as the subject to [email protected]
• Mxit: add [email protected] as G-talk contact. Message ‘d’ each day to retrieve the content
• Web: www.thewordspace.mobi The home page displays each day’s message.