Young people are leaving the church. Research proves this, and churches know it and feel it every week. Millennials, the current 20-somethings, are the least religiously active age group with an overall 43% drop-off in church engagement for the 18-29 age group. Research done by the Barna Group shows that 61% of Protestant Christians between the age of 18-29 say that they have dropped out of attending church, after going regularly (Kinnaman, 2011).
The church is desperate to re-engage this generation, as they are the future leaders of the Christ-movement. The good news is that “most young people are struggling less with their faith in Christ than with their experience of church.” Nearly 100% of the 61% of millennials who drop out of church, are still looking to engage spiritually with God, the Bible and other Christians.
Where is this happening? Online. The church is moving to the internet at a faster pace than any other generational change within the church.
Piksel recently surveyed 500 individuals throughout the U.S. to determine how people are connecting and worshipping in today’s society. The results confirmed the general trend – nearly a third of Christians who seek spiritual engagement online feel more connected to their physical church.
So how can the church re-engage this group of young people who are existing spiritually without their local church and what should the transition to a digital church look like?
It’s not enough to just have a website anymore. Millennials might look for church service times and ministry information, but more often than not, they are looking for content. They seek content in blogs, podcasts, images – all with spiritual insight and information, but in particular they are looking for video.
54% of millennial Christians are looking to find spiritual engagement in videos on the internet.
To see over half of the Christian generation rapidly disengaging from the church is seeking to stay engaged spiritually online, with video, is seeing a “field white for harvest” (John 4:35). They want live video, on-demand content, automatic on-the-go content, podcasts and apps. Is it just the millennials? No, this trend is increasing throughout the Church, with the 20-somethings leading the way.
Ultimately a church needs to have spiritually-led vision for any real growth to occur. Technology is not Jack’s magic bean, but it is a tool, which in the right hands and the right strategy can help reach a generation of Christians.
Here are a few observations on the use of digital technology within the Faith industry and how you can make the most of it at your church:
1) The Local Church
The Faith industry is a media business, and although we don’t feel comfortable referring to the ministry as a business, let’s take a look at what happens at the local church:
The pastor crafts a message for impactful teaching and delivery, and a high level of care is put into the presentation and production of the in-church experience. The pastor prepares, the band rehearses, and someone is set to run lights and audio. The Church’s goal is to deliver the message of the gospel, and enrich the lives of its members in spiritual ways, and build community. The church words are Salvation, Discipleship, and Fellowship.
Hollywood has a similar concept. They call this audience engagement, creating a fan-base, and TV community. The vocabulary is different, but in function they are equal. The TV industry is greatly succeeding in creating loyal fans, who regularly view content, building online communities of fans around fictional TV characters. The World is vying for the attention of your audience, putting billions of dollars in annual investment on the table. This means the effort of the church should greater [than it is] because the message is greater.
It’s important to look at some aspects of the church as media business in order to get the maximum impact of your message. You run the risk of missing out on reaching and engaging seekers that you could otherwise reach with a basic media strategy plan.
2) Master the medium as well as the message.
While you are (rightly) focused on delivering a compelling message that moves hearts and souls, the faith-seekers outside the four walls of your church have their own expectations.
For them, the quality of the overall experience moves them, and when you build a digital church, this includes the medium as well as the message. As attention spans shorten and options expand, viewers are less likely to tolerate pages that don’t load, production glitches or buffering delays. If they experience things like this, they’ll move on without a backward glance.
Ask yourself if you are working with a provider that is founded in faith, who understands how your users interact with your technology and is able to service both you and them. You know when your followers tune in on Sunday mornings and this is not the time you want support requests redirected to an offshore call center or a ‘sorry our office is closed’ voicemail box!
Part of your mission then is to not only craft a message that speaks to the hearts of seekers, but also delivered in a format convenient for seekers. Since your focus in on creating touching and meaningful content, finding the right provider who is able to deliver your entire message in a digital format that seekers are comfortable using is essential in mastering both medium and message
3) Internet is the new media, and video is its backbone.
The internet makes in easier than ever to increase your reach and engage with faith-seekers. In fact, by 2018 over 520 million homes will be watching video content online. That is a huge increase from the 182 million in 2010 that are currently viewing video through the Internet (Digital TV Research, 2013).
This tells us that the opportunity for the digital church is greater than ever before. The use of online video, audience engagement tools, and social media makes for a more engaged, always connected church, with a digital experience that compliments the local church experience. In your church, create meaningful connections with seekers and followers by following the digital trend. Create video content and share it them through connected televisions, mobile devices, computers and any other trending device is the new frontier in missions.
The bottom-line is that digital media is where the Church needs to be. By working together with media ministry staff, content management providers, and various device platforms, your church can reach people in more ways.
How are you engaging with digital media?