By Brooke Temple
Millennials are exposed to a bewildering array of social, cultural and commercial influences, each one pulling them in a different direction. Average daily screen time among 18-to 24-year-olds is close to 10 hours, 61 percent of which is spent on desktop and mobile devices.
And yet, despite spending all that time interacting with friends, watching videos, researching homework, consuming news media, shopping and countless other activities, a hefty portion of Millennials still describe a ‘fear of missing out’ on updates and events affecting their peer group.
How do you make a meaningful connection with a generation overwhelmed by choice? Where do community youth groups fit into the landscape of the so-called “digital native”?
Communicating with young people in a way that resonates —using technologies they instinctively understand — will ultimately benefit entire congregations. After all, smartphones have now eclipsed PCs as the primary point of web access for all demographics, and nobody predicts a reversal of the trend.
Let’s look at a few ways in which mobile technology can enhance engagement with your youngest congregants:
Conveying a clear message
Entering a church for the first time should be a welcoming experience. Millennials don’t necessarily want to ask someone for information — they’re used to scoping out items of interest online. Indeed, 56% of practicing Christian Millennials conduct advance research on churches via the internet. A church website doesn’t have to be flashy. It should tell potential members — young and old — what it stands for, and provide a convenient sneak peek of the kinds of activities and sermons to expect. As we’ve noted, mobile web access now exceeds desktop; so, it’s essential that your website is mobile-friendly.
Offering an authentic experience
Millennials prefer authenticity over desperate attempts to appear hip and “relevant.” Remember, this generation has been subjected to non-stop advertising their entire lives; even their social spaces are infiltrated by commercial interests. If anyone knows when they’re being “marketed at,” it’s a Millennial — and it’s not what they’re looking for in a faith organization.
Churches should provide respite from the onslaught of branded content, not feed into it. SMS messaging is ideal for a truly authentic mobile experience because it’s a standardized, text-only format for delivering personalized messages. To Millennials, this is old-school technology in the best possible sense: trustworthy, spam-free and easily accessible. Multimedia messaging (MMS) allows for more robust interaction through engaging visuals, audio or video messaging. Young congregants can get a creative reminder about an upcoming event, hear an inspirational message, see a full-color flyer on a Sunday service, or share a video of community service. The creativity goes beyond the text — but still to their smartphones — where they have a 95-percent open rate. Which brings us to…
Mobile apps and websites allow young people to consume and interpret information at their own pace and convenience. Your website should provide downloadable and streamable sermons or videos of recent events. It should also make it easy for potential members to register and donate; 20 percent of Christian Millennials have contributed to charities via SMS, and text-to-donate is fast becoming the most effective fundraising method.
Compared with previous generations, Millennials don’t feel the same sense of obligation about attending church. Mentorship is more important than ever if you want to keep young people involved in the community. According to Barna research, young adults who remain involved with their local church beyond their teens are twice as likely to have a close personal friendship with an older member of the community (who isn’t a pastor or minister). Text messaging and other forms of digital communication help facilitate these vital relationships, especially for more socially reticent congregants.
It’s also mutually beneficial: older members of the community can learn a great deal about the nuances of navigating the digital world from Millennials. Effective inter-generational communication is essential for the future of faith organizations, and mobile technology allows it to happen in a way that young people understand — and older members can learn from.
Mobile technology is enabling young people to engage with their local faith organizations in the same ways that they engage with friends. They might not go to church every week; however, just as they maintain social relationships largely online, they can do the same with their faith.
This flexibility is critical for long-term engagement. By giving young people the freedom to decide when to skirt the edges of a church experience, and when to get deeply involved, you take the pressure off not just the individual but your staff and volunteers, too. Instead of their future engagement hinging on one experience inside a church, Millennials can get a feel for the culture in a piecemeal fashion.
Brooke Temple is SVP of Strategic Partnerships for CallFire in Santa Monica, CA. He has more than 16 years of business development and digital marketing experience, and heads up CallFire’s sales efforts and enterprise-level customer acquisition strategies.