Here are six characteristics of the undefined young. The speaker, Nancy Lublin, who was speaking on Radio Four’s Four Thought programme, was, I assume, talking about 15-25 year olds. Or something like that. And commenting on how social change takes place. She runs campaigns that engage teens plus. Here are some of her observations.
Choice – How do you take your coffee?
Young people these days are overwhelmed by choice. Be it the cereal they eat in the morning to the kind of coffee they have (skinny decaff double shot latte with a shot of caramel). They are used to, and comfortable with choice. Even within education, much of their learning is self-directed.
Customisation – How will you personalise the song?
Not only do we have choice, but we can actually customise what we do with that choice. Not only do young people no longer buy music allbums, when they buy individual songs, they download them, and then re-mix them. We make our own screensavers and wallpaper, we make our apps look how we want, we put our own spin on things.
Followers Matter – Leading from middle
Twitter doesn’t work unless people follow. Otherwise it’s just a crazy individual pouting nonsense with no one listening. The day of the charismatic leader is not over, but it’s rare. Nowadays, if you catch the right zeitgeist or use the right hashtag you can have an audience of several thousand within minutes. Think Egypt. Think Syria. Where leaders of movements are denied broadcasting access, the people who share their views can gather a mob within minutes, from a Blackberry.
Speed – The six-week lifespan.
The pace of everything happens very quickly. Advertising campaigns have a very short duration. Also, there is no point putting the marketing out there and not being ready to respond immediately.
Cost – Free advertising is everywhere.
Lublin used this example: The Today Programme has two million viewers in the USA. Walmart has 25 million likes on Facebook. Where will they more effectively market? Duh! This is not to say that Walmart do Facebook for free, but there is plenty of stuff they can do for nothing. Don’t do campaigns which cost money. Campaigns which cost something have already wasted money.
Wired – Multiple information streams
Young people live on multiple devices. They can beo n two or three screens at a time of which this could include 9-11 information streams at once (SMS, Facebook chat, Twitter, TV, Comments page, etc). Older guys (25+) struggle with four to five information streams.
So if this is what young people are like, how do they approach church?
Choice –How do you like your worship?
In a town of any significant size, there is a choice of church. In some the preaching is good, in some the community is good, others have great music. Young people, if they are keen on church, are happy to choose. Partially based on branding, but more based on which elements please them.
Customisation – Having an influence
If a church does not allow its young people to tweak and modify who church is and what church does, that young person will inevitably feel disempowered and disengaged.
Followers Matter – It’s not the main man
To be honest, the Senior Pastor is not the most important figure for young people in church. It is the youth leader, the worship leader, the guys who tweet and blog. It may even be that the young person is accessing Bible teaching from a completely different country. The pyramid of church leadership does not apply how it used to.
Speed – Don’t be a drudge
Because church is diverse, and often elderly, the speed of change is limacine. This won’t help young people. We need to be fresh, agile, mobile, proactive (and responsive). Let’s face it, if we try something for six weeks and it doesn’t work. Move on, try something else. Change is good for our young people. Conversely, the elderly eschew the idea of the different. Tradition is a moveable feast. We create and make new traditions all the time. Let’s make some new ones. Again and again and again.
Cost – The major obstacle
Churches are short of cash. But so much of what we do costs nothing at all. Of course, many churches are tied into maintaining elderly buildings unsuitable for task. But if we embrace social media, we can run all kinds of excellent campaigns at practically no cost.
Wired – Get in the Wifi
If young people are constantly on their devices, and able to perform perfectly well, let’s get Wifi into church and trust them to use their devices appropriately. Livetweet the sermon. It’s only risky if it’s rubbish.