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Hashtag Missions: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conferences

Gen Z’s digital natives bring followers along for the experience.
Hashtag Missions: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conferences
Image: Copyright: 2018 Paul Lee: Urbana 18, InterVarsity's 25th Student Missions Conference

“I think what I learned can be summed up like this: I can either live missionally, or live for nothing,” read an Instagram caption posted by Max Park, one of 7,000 young adults who attended the Cross Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, at the start of the year.

That week, another 40,000 showed up for Passion in Atlanta, Dallas, and Washington, DC, and more than 10,000 for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Urbana in St. Louis.

For decades, Christian college students have gathered en masse to praise, pray, and hear the Word preached at national conferences like these, then returned to their campuses reenergized about the gospel and ready to share what they’ve learned.

But in the age of social media, their testimonies don’t wait until they’ve left the stadiums; attendees like Park take their followers along. They process the event through snapshots and social media posts, proclaiming the Good News to their friends in real time.

“These past four days have been incredibly eye-opening and overwhelmingly convicting. … It breaks my heart to see how I have failed to truly live for Christ the way he has called me to,” Rachel Carroll wrote in January, beneath a picture of her smiling with a pack of friends outside Passion’s Dallas event, her third year attending.

This year marks a shift in student ministry from the last of the millennial generation to Generation Z, which the Pew Research Center defines as those born after 1996, a cutoff based largely on technology. Millennials came of age as internet connectivity spread; Gen Z never knew life without it.

At Passion, Louie Giglio declared the advent of the iPhone as one of the most formative things in their lives.

“The phone ...

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