5 tips for engaging with your youth online


5 Tips for Communicating with your Youth online

Here at Church Edit and iKnow Church, we speak with so many Churches that are grappling with the issue of effectively reaching out to their community, being relevant in their world and engaging the younger generations. As Leaders and people involved in Church Ministry ourselves, we’ve walked this path as well and, while we don’t have all the answers, we thought it would be great if we could provide some advice for others who are on this journey.

Okay, so let’s tackle the the elephant in the room straight away. What on earth is ‘Gen Z’? Sociologists are prescribing this title to those born between the years of 1999 and 2015. These are the people who are making up your Youth and Children’s ministries and, in the case of the older ones, just beginning to enter further education and the workplace. It’s a vibrant, diverse and exciting generation with just as many quirks and challenges as the Millennials and Baby Boomers before them. But as with all things, do we really need to tailor specifically to them? Surely they’re just people after all… Right?

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One of the key barriers that churches need to overcome when effectively communicating with anyone at all is understanding the context which their target comes from. As the Church of God, we’re currently going through one of the largest communication shifts of the last few centuries. The prominence of the Internet, Social Media and constant connection has revolutionised the way people communicate and interact with each other. Before, where a simple announcement from the pulpit and a mid week reminder would be sufficient, today in the time it takes a Church gathering to close out and an attendee to walk out the building, it is likely that they’ve already received hundreds of other headlines and been invited to several other events. Stats report that Smartphones are ‘checked’ on average 14 times every hour! Arguably the world has never been so connected and communication has never been easier. So with this in mind, how can we effectively communicate with our Church?

Where before Churches were tackling Generation X and then the Millenials after that, the new target group is Gen Z and with them comes a whole new package of challenges. Just this year, Facebook recorded 2 billion active monthly users globally, of which 30 million are in the UK alone! With Facebook being the most visited social media, closely followed by Youtube and then Instagram, we can begin to see a clear route to reach the younger generations.

So here’s a few quick tips on how you can boost your outreach and improve your relations with the Youth and Children in your community.

 

1-   Go to where they are:

With the internet being so prominent both for communication and entertainment, consider the content you’re producing. How does it stand out from other online content? Rather than waiting for the ‘youngsters’ to come through the Church door, why not go to them? Youtube is the second most highly used search engine with approximately 1 billion hours of video watched per day! With blogs and personal updates being one of the largest video types and video length ranging from mere minutes to hours, why not consider producing videos on Youtube? Use Social Media such as Instagram to give real, honest insight into the Church. We’ve even heard of several Churches hosting ‘Fortnite*’ gaming nights to help people cross the threshold of the Church! Consider where your young community is, how can you effectively span that gap?

* Fortnite is a massively popular online game which seems to be taking the Gen Z culture by storm

2-  Not everything needs to be Spiritual!

In the Gospels, Jesus makes his parables relevant to his audience at the time. I.e., when in Galilee he spoke about builders and farmers, but when in Jerusalem he spoke about money and other more ‘corporate’ issues. He tailored his language to make sure that he was relevant and understood by those around him. We too need to be doing this. Cut down on the ‘Christianese’ and go to where our target is, all with the intention on bringing them to a point where we can then have the spiritual conversations and bring them to where we are. Don’t be afraid of just chatting about the football, or music or anything else!

3- Harness the Innate

Both Millennials and Gen Z seem to have an innate activist inside them. They’re eager to get involved and make a tangible difference. Whether that’s social outreach or serving on a team at our Sunday gatherings. Produce opportunities for these to outwork this gifting. Recognise the potential in the younger people and call it out of them. Give the opportunities and responsibilities that will stretch and grow them. If you invest in your younger generations, they’ll invest in you. Maybe you ask one of the older Children in the Children’s ministry to help out on your media team, or give a teenager an opportunity in the worship group. Not only should Church be a safe place to fail, but when you take a risk and give an opportunity to a young person you add value to that young person. This alters their attitude and ownership within the Church.

4- Get Real

In a world filled with branding, marketing messages and ‘Fake News’, the Gen Z have a great authenticity-oMeter. We need to ensure that we’re being as genuine and real as we can in both the way we communicate and live our lives as well the content we produce. This can start with something as simple as the images we use on our website or social media, are you using stock photographs or are you using real photos taken in a real setting for your Church? If I was to visit your website and then your Church, would I recognise people? It sounds simple, but this goes such a long way in building relationship and bridging the gap.  Just remember, if you’re sharing identifiable photos of people (Photos which show the face or other personal details), you’ll need to get their consent first!

5- Make communication snack sized and diverse

One massive way which Gen Z differs from Millenials is the preferred method of communication. Where Millenials tended to prefer a very niche communication route and for it to be text based (Emails, Text messages etc), Gen Z are growing up in a world where they juggle multiple forms of communication. Many will frequent at least 3 different Social Media platforms, communication style is much more visual and image based. With Emoji’s, GIFs and Memes becoming some the most highly shared content online. As the average attention span is decreasing (according to studies, the average American attention span is 8 seconds!), make your communication bite sized, convey meaning through images where possible and don’t be afraid to spread it over multiple channels.  At the same time, studies are showing that Gen Z’ers are also keen to have genuine connections with people rather than online/digital connection only. Perhaps consider using multiple platforms to highlight key messages, but for detailed conversation, your Gen Z’ers will be only too happy to meet up and have a proper chat!

And there we have it! 5 ways to connect with the Gen Z in your world and improve how you communicate with your Youth and Children. For some of us, this may seem like common sense, for others it may feel like a mountain which needs to be climbed. Whichever it comes under for you, we, as the Church need to not only be efficient, but effective as we step out and seek to fulfill the Great Commission.

We’d love to hear any stories you have from putting any of this into practice, let us know just how you found this helpful in your Church journey!


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