How to Use Social Proof in Kids Ministry

Zach Matchett from Northview Church shares how you can use social proof in Kids Ministry. The Church can utilize social proof better if they would stop setting themselves up to be the hero and instead focus on families being the hero.

Zach Matchett
August 13, 2021
Kids Ministry Leadership

Small moments can have a big impact

In his book The Power of Moments, author, Chip Heath, says this: “The ‘occasionally remarkable’ moments shouldn’t be left to chance! They should be planned for, invested in.” As I begin my 16th year in vocational ministry, I have certainly seen my fair share of remarkable moments. Some were by chance, as Heath says, and others had more intentionality behind them. 

On one occasion early in my ministry, I ended a sermon at a student ministry camp by reading a particular Psalm that had been challenging me lately. I began reading it out loud as we were about to transition into a closing worship song, and for whatever reason, I was overcome with emotion. It was seemingly out of nowhere – I can only describe it as feeling the weight of the text as I was proclaiming it in front of a group of people. I began looking out in the crowd and noticing that some students also became emotional. Some who half checked out suddenly became quite focused. I remember one group of kids who were talking through most of it had one of their crew elbow the others almost as if to say, “Hey, this is serious.” Once I had finished, I thought to myself, “I hope I’m not trying to fabricate a moment.” That can be an easy thing to do as a pastor; I’m hyper aware of our ability to manipulate people’s emotions and try to avoid that. However, this was different. It just was.

I prayed and closed the message, and as students began to sing the final song, you could just feel something different in the room. A couple of days later, we had a time of sharing and so many students articulated that God grabbed their attention in that moment. I am thankful to God for that moment.

The Power of Moments by Chip & Dan Heath

And yet…here was the problem. The FOMO level was quite low. It was a powerful moment for the participant, and yet, “you had to be there” for the outsider. There was no way to document it other than to experience it. I realized it was a win to the church, but what about the families of the kids who experienced it? They weren’t there. How do you explain a God-moment to someone who wasn’t in the room? I will take it a step further – how do you follow up on a moment with a group of students that you only see for a couple hours a week? You can’t – that’s what families are good at. The Church is good at creating environments, but oftentimes bad at follow-up.

I had unintentionally set the church up to win instead of the family. More on that later…

This brings me to the concept of “social proof”: generically defined as when people change their behaviors based on the actions of others. This was experienced internally in that camp setting, but for those who weren’t there, we had no way to leverage that moment in a pre-social media era where other families might feel compelled to send their student the following year.

Contrast that with an event we just did recently at Northview Church in central Indiana called the Mother Son Adventure Race. This was an event for middle school and high school boys and their mother-figures to compete in an “Amazing Race” meets scavenger hunt event. After the race, the mother-figures and boys come back to campus to share a meal, hear a short message, and then have a discussion guide where the women talk to the boys about treating women with integrity. The goal of the event is to attach a memory (the race) with a moment (the conversation at the end). 

Northview Church's Carmel Campus

One of our student ministry values is this statement: When families win, we (the Church) win. So many moms commented to us that the time of conversation was so meaningful and the crazy challenges during the race will be a memory they have with their son for the rest of their life (which included hitting a flaming tennis ball and shooting wooden animal cut-outs with a paintball gun to determine their lunch – ha!). Naturally, photos and posts went up on social media from moms all across our church about the incredible event they participated in. 

Now, what can we learn about social proof from this event and its continued success…

Share the wins

When a family wins at spiritually leading their kids, you don’t keep it a secret. It’s one thing for the student ministry Instagram account to post photos, but real-time testimonials from the participants will create that FOMO in the future. I will take it a step further and deeper: the Church can utilize social proof better if they would stop setting themselves up to be the hero and instead focus on families being the hero. Again, if a family feels empowered to grow spiritually, that’s a win for the Church. I saw women and boys come to this event who rarely come to our weekly student ministry programming. Guess what – that’s ok! I’m willing to sacrifice better student ministry attendance for a family experiencing a powerful moment that turbocharges their spiritual development.

Be intentional and don’t leave moments to chance.

If you do a great event or retreat or conference at your church, shoulder-tap a few people ahead of time and ask them to share their experience online after the event is over. In the future, we see this as a possible improvement for our events because we know certain families who have a ton of social influence or a great ability to articulate their experience. Leverage that instead of just waiting and hoping they have a good time!

The power of story.

How can you as a church cast vision for an event with a story vs. celebrating record-breaking attendance at camp this year? One 8th grade boy told his mom that his favorite part of the whole event was when he and his mom were laughing in the car about the previous challenge they just completed as they were driving to the next one. A family focus highlights that; a youth ministry focus highlights “And here’s ANOTHER photo of flaming tennis balls!” Parenting is tough stuff, and non-participating parents need to hear from other parents about the memorable conversations.

Are you setting the Church up to win or the family/individual up to win? Utilize social proof and positive FOMO to highlight moments and resist the urge to make the Church the hero.

Get Weekly Ministry Insights In Your Inbox

* indicates required

Don't forget to share this post!