Church Communication Beyond Digital Natives

2001 – The first iPod was released.

2003 – Blackberry released it’s first smartphone with a color screen and calling capabilities.

2007 – The original iPhone debuted.

Anyone born in the last 16-20 years is part of a truly unique generation. It’s a generation that Marc Prensky called “Digital Natives” and for good reason. They have quickly adopted this massive growth in technology in ways that other generations, including my own, haven’t been able to. But what’s even more remarkable to me is the generation after it. Those 15 and under are not only a part of the community of digital natives, but it’s a generation whose self-identity, along with their cognitive and social development will be largely influenced by this technology.

This is fascinating to think about.

But practically, I can’t help but wonder how (or if) churches will be able to communicate effectively to this generation. I think it starts with these 3 ideas:

Recognize Your Digital Community

All churches have a digital community. Your church’s digital community is made up of every Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Google+ account that your members have. But if your church is like most, you’re not utilizing it the way you should.

You have to realize the necessity of strengthening your digital community alongside your physical community. Your Facebook page will never replace someone physically being present on Sunday morning, but it can be one of the best ways to connect people to a Sunday morning service and build relationships around it. This idea has to be owned by your entire church staff. Your college intern can’t be the only one who gets it. The work she does might be awesome, but it’s dead in the water if the rest of the staff doesn’t let her work influence the way they communicate.

When it comes to practical ideas for content, the 10 ideas that I list here and here are some of the lowest hanging fruit available to you each week. If you’re not familiar with them, there’s no day like today to start. If you’re already in tune with them, you can always revamp, rework, or reimagine them. But these kinds of basics lay the groundwork for everything else you’ll bring into your digital community.

Build a Theology of Technology

Like anything, technology isn’t inherently good or bad but it’s how we choose to use it that matters. Granted, I struggle to see how someone can build a gospel purpose into apps like Tinder. But we can’t let our fear of how some technology might be used keep us from utilizing a tool to help build an intentionally positive presence in our digital communities. Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and innovation leader from LifeChurch.tv, shared about their theology of technology in a video with LifeWay’s vice-president Eric Geiger. It’s a short but helpful look at how their staff fully incorporates the tools that technology has given us to find more ways to bring the gospel to their communities.

It all starts with being aware. Lean into the digital native staff and key volunteers of your church to keep a pulse on new apps. Ask them to give a monthly cultural report with a quick glimpse at where your congregation lives online and highlighting any new technology or digital developments. Look for rhythm’s and trends with specific generations. If all of your high school students are on Snapchat, then build it into your conversations and help them see how to be a light on that platform.

And make yourself aware of the churches that are blazing trails in new technology. For instance, look for churches like Brentwood Baptist who have been exploring Snapchat. You might never be on a staff with resources like Brentwood, but it’s an opportunity to learn from their successes and their mistakes.

Use Low-Cost Apps to Translate Your Communication

Youth workers are some of the most creative folks I know, and that includes the ministry they pull off with little or no budget. Most likely, they are also the ones on your staff who utilize apps to save money so they can afford things like taking their students out for ice-cream or scholarships for a family to send their kids to camp. I have saved our church thousands of dollars on promotional images with these free or almost free tools:

Tangent – Photo editing
Legend – 6-second typography GIFs/videos
PicLab HD – Text layering on images
UnSplash – Copyright free image library

Embracing this technology isn’t just about saving money. These apps help translate your communication into today’s digital landscape. The tools I listed above limit my options to current image and design trends, so it helps me create promotional pieces that are more culturally relevant than what I might do on my own.

That’s also why your youth workers are probably using tools like MinHub to handle the more administrative side of their job. MinHub is a powerful database resource that includes a digital check-in system students naturally know how to use, it provides clear communication for their digitally native volunteers, it tracks student attendance, contact information, small group details, and more for just $14.99.

These 3 things will help your church communicate in a language that makes sense to the generation after our digital natives. By fully recognizing your digital communities, choosing to incorporate a theology of technology, and utilizing low-cost apps to translate your communication, you’ll help them see that they have a place in the church.

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