How a Church Communicates in a Generation Gap
I read a few interesting articles today in Entrepreneur Magazine and Marketing Pilgrim, about how people communicate, and have difficulty communicating, between the generational gaps. Each generation has a different way of embracing new forms communicating that becomes comfortable to them but where gen-x and gen-y 'ers seem to have adopted to new forms of communication, the boomers have let is slide and still prefer their face-to-face and over the phone exchanges.
Face-to-Face, Phone, or Twitter-ific
The reports go on to talk about how that makes it difficult to properly communicate between the boomers and gen'ers who don't really care for face to face and hate making an actual phone call. All that got me thinking about how we communicate within the church. Poor communication in a church can kill its momentum, growth, or relationships, but "poor" communication is not universal and what is poor communication from a 20-something to a boomer is acceptable among their peers.
Being Unaware Creates Mis-Understanding
It doesn't take long to see how mis-understandings in communication methods between generations can cause problems. As an example, I have found that the farther away you get from the Baby Boomer generation the less an actual response to something is deemed necessary... a response to a phone call, email, sms, facebook comment, tweet on Twitter, whatever it is, the younger you are, the fewer responses are deemed to be needed where the closer to a boomer you are, the more you expect a response to everything.
Where a boomer-ish person is offended by a non-response, the gen-y'er doesn't even give it a second thought. Being a Gen-X'er myself, I get quite irritated with non-response but always try to remember who it is I am communicating with, then interpret what their lack of response means. What it means is that they don't communicate in the exact same method I do, and I shouldn't hold that against them when I don't get a response.
Of course that is a generality and certainly not scientific, but it highlights that an understanding of how each generation prefers to communicate is needed, especially within the church body. If we want the church body to grow, if we want to reach new people for Jesus, we have to understand how the younger generation likes to communicate, what is important to communicate to them, and what they could care less about. As we all get older, it isn't about what makes us happy and what we like, right?
Who is the Church Trying To Reach Anyway?
Who are we trying to reach? If we are trying to reach the Boomer's, they are probably still looking for those traditional forms of communication from the church like a weekly snail-mailed newsletter, a printed paper bulletin, a pictorial directory of church members, and even those phone calls to the house. It wouldn't be a stretch to say Gen-Y doesn't care a thing about getting something in the mail or receiving a bulletin when they walk in, that just isn't what they are looking for in a church, it doesn't add any value to their experience.
They want to share ideas. They could possibly be the most sharing generation the world has seen, but it isn't sharing face-to-face like the boomers, it is sharing stories, ideas, life dreams, it is life lived as open source. Even email is unimportant, and becoming less and less important as time goes by. It is just considered to be spam (even if it isn't), and sending an email newsletter is irrelevant to the generation that lives on rss feeds.
Produce, but Don't Push Information
Like each past generation, they want to communicate with each other in the manner they are accustomed to, which is electronically. They get their information proactively, and don't want it pushed onto them, this means we have to produce the information and let them come get it. Communicating things in that manner may seem backwards to traditional means (because it is), and may be more difficult, but push methods will be rejected by the Gen-Y'ers.
So how do we produce information we want them to see and just hope they find it? Carefully I guess, but I know if it is meaningful enough to them, they will find it. Word of mouth still rules with Gen-Y as it does with Boomers, so maybe that is the bridge over the generation gap.
Check out the chart below. I think if we make an effort to understand how each generation prefers to communicate we can better know how to serve each person. Serving someone in a manner or custom they could care less about it totally ineffective and a waste of everyone's time. Wouldn't it be better to know how best to serve (communicate with) each individual person instead assuming all will respond in the same way?