Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. Psalm 71:18
I am reminded of a famous line from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Lukewhere Luke, a stubborn prisoner played by Paul Newman, has an interaction with a captain of the guards who mistreated him. In the scene, the captain gets angry and hits Newman and then says “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
It’s a quote I’ve used many times over the years, and it applies today in the context of communicating with the next generation who are digital natives. They have grown up with mobile or smart phones in their hands. It has been a game changer.
Over the years, I’ve watched the changes that technology has made to communication in business and law. When I first started practicing law, we had basic typewriters and a telephone. That changed when typewriters were able to record and had memory.
All of a sudden, secretaries didn’t need to entirely retype a letter or brief if a mistake was made. And carbon copies went out the window with the introduction of the copy machine (originally called Xerox, which was a company that was one of the first to sell the technology). Making a copy of the original was easier.
When I joined a large law firm in 1985, we were introduced to the fax. It was soon replaced by email. We were one of the first firms to put computers on the desk of every person, including our attorneys, some of whom had no idea how to turn it on or use it.
Smartphones were introduced 2007. That’s really only a decade ago, yet it has been a disruptive technology, along with the advent of high-speed internet. Just as the fax machine or computer before it, it has been a disruptive technology. It has changed how we communicate, particularly with the next generation.
Christianity has been scratching its collective head on how to reach the millennials and Gen Z in ways that appeal to them. They have often focused on “what” to say, but not “how” to say it. Adapting to the communication delivery systems used by the next generations has been slow.
The smartphone digital revolution has done more than just chang the method of communication. It has unforeseen side effects, not all of which are good. Attention spans have dropped drastically, as has vocabulary. Thevocabularyof middle schoolers has dropped from 25,000 words ten years ago to 10,000 today. Not a good trend.
Shortened attention span (8 seconds for millennials and 6 for Gen Z) has repercussions. Didactic teaching, where the teacher or lecturer stands in front of a class and delivers content is fast becoming an anomaly. Depending on the age of the class, the younger audience is lost and usually will be looking at their smartphones or texting one another rather than listening within the first few minutes.
For the church, it means that the long sermon may be in danger, too. Sermons might work on other generations who grew up with it, but for the younger generation, it is not producing much fruit. They want to participate. They want to collaborate. They want to ask questions.
The smartphone has made the millennials more reliant on the opinions of their peers for their values and outlooks. Sadly, their peers are equally clueless, so it’s a little like the blind leading the blind. The result is that millennials would rather collaborate – that’s their best mode of learning, and it’s one that educators and the church is finally realizing.
Witness the movement in colleges to embrace the “flipped classroom.” The lecturer steps down from the podium and becomes a facilitator instead. The students study the topic on their own and then the teacher guides the discussion but doesn’t control it, leaving the students to interact and respond to each other on a given topic. Studies show that learning and retention increases six times under this method and grades improved.
Podcasts are also gaining traction in education. Teachers can record content for their classes, and there are historical podcasts available such as Presidential which has 44 episodes on the life of every American president. Podcasting is easy with today’s apps and software, much of which is free and online.
Here’s the kicker: the next generation will listen to a podcast or YouTube but not a sermon or lecture. It is a growing method of content delivery, particularly among the millennials and Gen Z. Why not take that as a given, and use it? I ask that kind of question to pastors all the time.
Instead of hoping for a millennial to listen to a sermon, I suggest that the pastor record a podcast of the salient points (no more than 5 minutes) and post it on the Church website or use it as a prelude to a millennial small group.
I could go on with other examples, but the message and challenge are clear: changes in technology and communication will require the older generations to adapt. If they can’t hear you or won’t listen to you, you are wasting your time trying to reach them using traditional methods. It’s time to get creative.
One thing that has never gone out of vogue is mentoring. The next generation is open to mentoring and this is still a tool that can advance the Kingdom.
MENTORING TAKEAWAY: You don’t have to hang out on social media to connect with the next generation. You can do it by just being open to meeting with them. Take time today to invest in someone else’s life by offering yourself as a mentor.
RESOURCES: 7 Things Every Adult ShouldKnow about Gen Z.
Podcasting made easy on PodBean
MUSIC: Something different – this is secular music by one of my favorites, Bruce Hornsby, and the song is entitled “The Way it Is” reminding us of the reality that the new form of communication is just the way it is.
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