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Information Is Cheap: Communicating With a New Generation

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If you’re a church leader in the tech age, chances are good you push out a lot of information to your congregation – you send email, keep a personal or church blog, and even send snail mail. You use many forms of communication to let your congregation know what is going on, and that’s good-or is it?
Depending on the age demographic of your church, you may or may not be getting the payoff you’d like from your communication strategy, and that may be because you don’t understand the culture you’re communicating with.
Curious what I mean?

When Information Meant Something

Just months before he passed away, my grandfather unintentionally taught me something important about the culture of my age: my generation and those after mine do not treasure information like generations before us.
Toward the end of his life my grandfather would spend hours sharing a random smattering of knowledge from all the decades he had lived through. I’d hear about the path his aircraft carrier took in WWII, why his video camera in 1964 was technologically superior, and how to design satellite lenses for interstellar photography (he was literally a rocket scientist). He’d chuckle and declare, “How about that!” as he told me each bit of information and pull out yet another 40-year-old photo. Between the newspapers, photographs, blueprints, and sheets of note paper, he had a tangible record of as many world events and innovations as he could carry—and then some.
I happily listened to his stories, until one day he leaned forward and said something that particularly caught my attention. “Everywhere the aircraft carrier stopped,” he said, “I’d get off to take pictures and collect any paper I could. That was stuff they couldn’t get at home.”
That, I realized, was the root of his lifelong pursuit and collection of information. In his time, information beyond what was happening in his hometown was hard to get, and that made it special. Information was special.

Up to Our Eyeballs in Information

Now, I’m no sociologist, and I have nothing but anecdotal evidence for my theory, but give it a chance. If you’re a church leader over the age of 50, you might need to think more deeply about the generational culture of your church and how to inform them.
Do you remember your high-school economics class? Remember the law of supply and demand? It says that when there’s little of something people want, they’re willing to do a lot to get it. When more of that something comes into the market, it’s easier to get, so people won’t give as much for it. Finally, one day, there’s so much of it, people hardly care about it. This, I believe, is what’s happened to information in recent years. Where previous generations worked to find and stockpile information, today’s younger, media-rich generations drown in it so we don’t value it the same way. Information is cheap.
Think about it. In seconds, we can pull out our phones and find the final score of the ballgame, learn the history of English monarchs during the renaissance, or see images of the space shuttle Atlantis in orbit. It’s no real investment, so we really don’t value it.
Of course, the information we seek is only the tip of the iceberg; consider how much unwanted information is thrown at us all day. Times Square is a good object lesson here: every direction you look is floor-to-ceiling LCD messaging from virtually every major brand on earth, all hitting you at the same time. That’s what happens every time you open the junk folder in your email, watch TV, read a magazine, or even pull out the phone in your pocket.
Because generations born or raised in this era are so inundated in information, it’s not that we don’t value it like our elders do, we’re actually trained at filtering and ignoring it. Where my grandfather once treasured every bit of data he came across, I now decide in seconds if what I’m seeing is valuable enough to invest any time in it. The economy of information has flipped. Time used to be a worthy sacrifice to gain information. Today, we sacrifice information to retain our time.

Recognizing and Bridging the Gap

So, if I’m right in all this, what’s it mean for you? Well, if you’re the church leader of a generation younger than your own, and you find that the way you get information to them doesn’t elicit a big response, you may need to start thinking less like a baby-boomer (or older) and more like a millennial.

  1. Don’t send irrelevant communications. Whether you use The City or just have specific email lists for people in different church ministries, only send information to the people it’s pertinent to (i.e., don’t send women’s-ministry emails to men or newlywed information to singles).
  2. Don’t send too many individual communications to the same people. If there are eight things you want to say to your whole church this week—and they are important enough to justify — compile those things into a single, quick, easily scannable communication that links to more detailed information for those who are interested.
  3. Know what channels your people use. If your church loves email, use it. If they’re all hip, young kids who get push notifications from Facebook or Twitter™, use those. Learn where your church generally goes to collect information, and go there.
  4. Make your titles and headings clear. In most cases, people will give you the time it takes them to read the title and note who sent the communication before they decide whether to read or toss it. A good title is vital to getting the right people to read more.

In the end, what you’re doing is not just being smart with your communication; you’re serving your church. By understanding that young, information overloaded kid in the pew and applying his information filter to your content long before you send it, you’re saving him precious time and thought, showing that you care. You become not just another pushy vendor of information, but a trusted source of knowledge. When he sees your name on an email, article, or tweet, he expects to be told something important to him, something that will draw him into community, something far different than what the marketing world offers him.

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