Social media and personal influence allow Christian youth groups and their members to share their faith within the walls of UAHS
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
— Matthew 28:19
This Bible verse from the Gospel of Matthew guides the way some students live their lives. For these individuals, the high school offers a comfortable atmosphere for them to live out their faith.
Throughout the school, these students have a noticeable influence on the rest of the student body. They feel comfortable sharing their faith with others in a public school setting, and much of this comfort comes from the support of the Christian organizations of which they’re members.
Two of the most prominent organizations are Young Life and Cru, the latter formerly known as Student Venture. According to the official Young Life website, the group “brings the good news of Jesus Christ into the lives of adolescents with an approach that is respectful of who kids are and hopeful about who they can be.”
Members of the UA group meet each Monday for Club, where they enjoy skits, games, and music with their friends. They also meet each Wednesday for Campaigners, a Bible study devoted to diving deeper into “life’s tough questions with a group of friends and leaders you can trust,” according to the organization’s website.
Cru is another popular group for those who wish to know more about what a relationship with Jesus Christ means. According to its website, Cru is a “community of Spirit-led, Christ-centered, spiritually maturing believers,” whose mission is “to build spiritual movements so every teenager has the opportunity to know and follow Christ.” The UA group meets on Monday nights to “have fun together and learn more about what it means to have a personal relationship with God.” The group also hosts small groups once a week led by an older student, volunteer, or staff member where they can further discuss their faith.
The presence of these two groups, along with the high number of Christian students at UAHS, has a significant influence on the student body.
Posting the Word
The strategies these organizations use to spread the word about certain events vary from posting on social networking sites to spreading information around the school and making announcements on Kickin’ It Live, the high school’s weekly broadcast news show.
For the Christian students who grow in their faith by taking part in a group or Bible study with friends, spreading the word about their event or group is key in gaining more believers.
One way of spreading the word about various Christian-based events is by posting information throughout the halls. To post flyers around the school, the approval of a school administrator is needed, assistant principal Andrew Theado said.
However, due to the small amount of people posting flyers around the school, principal Emilie Greenwald said she is not worried about students getting in trouble for being involved in such actions.
“We don’t view it as a tremendous issue,” Greenwald said.
Theado and Greenwald recommend that if students choose to post flyers, they put them on tack strips throughout the halls as opposed to stuffing them in students’ lockers. The two described this as more of a passive action, which helps to keep students from getting offended, since the information is not directly sent to them.
“Posting flyers on bulletin boards is much less intrusive, because it’s the students’ choice if they check it out,” Greenwald said. “But stuffing them in lockers: I view that a little differently.”
Senior Sydney Latas said that in most cases posting flyers, making announcements, or inviting people to events via Facebook is acceptable.
“If you want to invite me to Burger Bash or something, then that’s fine,” she said. “You’re just including everyone and advertising your community event.”
With the emergence of social networking, many Christian organizations use social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get the word out to others about religious events.
Kelton Aschinger, a junior who attends Cru, said he feels strongly in his faith and uses social networks to spread the word about various Cru meetings or events.
“It’s not all about the meetings [or] the Bible studies,” Aschinger said. “It’s really about trying to make disciples everywhere, and I think social networking has allowed these groups to really share their beliefs to hundreds of people really fast.”
Like Aschinger, senior Allee Overmyer feels comfortable in her faith and is a regular attendee at Young Life. For Overmyer, social media sites have helped her and the whole Young Life group advertise certain events or meet-ups.
“I’m really involved in Young Life and we post everything online,” Overmyer said. “It’s a good way to get it out so people know about it.”
Although social networking is effective for some, not all students are thrilled about the implications Christian groups have had on their Facebook newsfeed or Twitter homepage.
Latas, who uses various social networking sites, said she sometimes finds status updates and tweets with Bible verses annoying. She believes broadcasting one’s faith on a social networking site is unnecessary.
“If you’re a person who’s really confident in your religion, you shouldn’t feel the need to broadcast it,” she said. “[It] has the potential to aggravate or offend others.”
While Latas is sometimes bothered by scripture being posted as one’s status update, she does realize social networking’s potential to get the word out, so she understands why some students post such information. However, Latas said that if one declines an invitation to a Christian event, it should end there.
“I think it’s really nice that they’re making an effort to be inclusive of everyone, and I think that’s commendable,” Latas said. “But at the same time, when someone says no, then stop trying to badger them into going.”
Next to the constant Facebook updates and tweets, Latas said other aspects of these groups can be irritating.
“The elephant in the room is that Young Life is a huge force at the high school. We hear about it on Facebook and Twitter, and we see the leaders at the school and at community events,” she said. “I just see them talking to the kids after school which is nice, but it makes me uncomfortable. Have your Young Life wherever you’re going to have it; just don’t bring it to the school.”
Like Latas, senior Ava Esler does not attend any of these Christian groups. Esler considers herself agnostic and said she does not feel that religion is forced on her while at school.
“I definitely feel no pressure to feel one way or the other about religion here, which is a good thing,” she said.
While one can see the influence of these groups by the flyers around the school or on social media websites, the way members of these groups portray themselves is also noticeable. The influence Christians have on the school and community is seen by many, including faculty members.
Language arts teacher Michael Donelson is currently on staff at Cru. During his 18 years teaching at UAHS, Donelson has seen students who are very willing to share their faith with others as well as students who are more shy.
“I think some students are more shy about sharing their faith in the school because of this perception of separation of church and state,” Donelson said. “Though every student has the right to choose what they believe, they might feel that they can’t express it in the school environment.”
Donelson said other students might be shy about sharing their faith because they fear being judged for their beliefs.
“I think that sometimes we don’t have the sense of tolerance or acceptance that everybody claims we have,” Donelson said. “Instead of trying to understand what someone believes, people tend to be far more judgmental. So if people didn’t feel [so] judged then they would be more willing to share.”
While Donelson’s description of shy believers holds true for some students, Aschinger is one who feels comfortable sharing his faith, even in a public school setting. To help grow in his faith, Aschinger has been involved with Cru throughout his high school years. He said UAHS provides a safe atmosphere for him to express his religious beliefs.
Like Aschinger, Overmyer also feels comfortable in her beliefs. She said Christians who are strong enough in their faith to openly live it out in the school can have a positive influence on the student body by giving encouragement to other students.
“You can see a lot of times with the people that really love the Lord,” Overmyer said. “They have this glow or this happiness about them and a lot of times it’s encouraging for other people.”
Aschinger said Christian students have the ability to serve as positive influences on the rest of the school. The most noticeable influence Aschinger sees is the actions and morals of those who are Christian.
“If you look at somebody who is really living their life with Christian morals, you can see a difference,” Aschinger said.
However, other students have different views about the influence of Christians in the school. Despite the personal invitations, tweets, and Facebook status updates, students involved in Christian ministries have a negligible influence on some members of the student body, Latas said. At times, Latas feels annoyed with the evangelistic methods of these groups.
“They definitely don’t have a negative influence; they’re not doing anything bad,” Latas said. “I think it’s great if you want to explore your faith more, but I don’t think they have as positive of an influence as they think.”
Esler, who said she thinks there is a strong presence of Christians at UAHS, shares common views with Latas about the neutral influence they have on the student body.
“I believe that they don’t really change many opinions,” Esler said.
Community of Believers
For many students, having a group of fellow believers with which to surround themselves is a helpful way to grow in their faith. Aschinger credits his strong beliefs to the positive effect surrounding himself with a group of believers at Cru has had on him.
“Putting myself in an organization that is trying to put me on the track to God has helped me more than I ever thought it would,” Aschinger said.
Due to the friendships with the believers at Cru, Aschinger said he has been able to grow in his faith tremendously throughout his high school years. Because of the group’s impact on him personally, Aschinger rose up to a leadership role in the group to help other students have a similar experience.
“I’m here because God put me here,” Aschinger said. “I really don’t know what I’m going to do later in my life yet, but right here in this moment, I think making disciples at the school or around the community is a really cool thing.”
Aschinger credits his ability to serve as a leader in Cru to the lessons the group has taught him about spreading his beliefs to others.
“I really fell in love with Cru sophomore year. It has given me the outreach ability to start sharing my faith,” Aschinger said.
Like Aschinger, Overmyer also enjoys having a community of believers with whom she can spend time and said she benefits from her relationships with the Christian friends she has made.
“I know I can talk to them if I need somebody to pray for me,” Overmyer said.
Although some students benefit from attending these groups, there are others, like Esler, who choose not to participate but looks at them as a good experience for those who choose to attend.
Although Esler is not religious, she approves of these Christian groups.
“They seem like a lot of fun and bonding for those who participate in the organizations,” Esler said.
While some see members of these groups as those searching to deepen their faith, others, like Latas, feel otherwise.
“I feel like sometimes people in Arlington rely on religion to get away with poor choices,” Latas said. “In certain cases, people partake in illicit activities and in doing so, lie to their families and break laws and then revert back to their various Bible studies and religious organizations, making it seem as though these people feel they can get away with making poor decisions and then redeem themselves by attending religious activities.
“I think it’s great if you’re seeking participation in these religious-affiliated groups if you’re truly looking to deepen your faith and to grow better as a person,” Latas said. “But if you repeatedly are making bad decisions and using your religion to justify them, then I think there’s a problem.”
For Latas, it is not only some Christian’s actions, but also their attitudes that sometimes provoke her. She described some Christian students as sometimes being non-accepting of others.
“Isn’t Christianity supposed to be accepting of all people? I guess this lends to some, definitely not all, but some of the people in these said groups give off a condescending aura,” Latas said.
While Latas’s thoughts about the attitudes of some students in these groups holds true for others in the school, others, like Aschinger try to have a positive attitude when it comes to influencing the student body.
While Aschinger enjoys making disciples around the school, he said he has a nonjudgmental view towards other religions and hopes the groups are not creating too forceful of an invitation.
“I think Christianity is an awesome thing that is happening at Upper Arlington High School,” Aschinger said. “But I don’t want anyone to think that these groups, such as Cru or Young Life are trying to pressure anybody to believe in the faith.”
Question Surveyed to 177 UAHS Students: Christian groups are too intrusive at UAHS
37% said YES
36% said NO
27% said UNDECIDED