“One of the most positive trends among Millennials is that they want faith that is holistically integrated into all areas of life—including their technology. How the Church acknowledges and engages the digital domain—and teaches faithfulness in real-life to young adults as well—will determine much about its long-term effectiveness among Millennials.” (Barna, 2013)
I’m no Millennial, but like many Millennials today, I wasn’t raised with religion. It wasn’t like we were “anti-religious”—in fact, all us kids were baptised, and my parents did pretty well “keeping the faith” when my sister and brother were small. But by the time I came along—the classic third child syndrome—we were a busy family of five and all the church’y stuff fell to the wayside. So did Brownies and figure skating lessons, but that’s a blog post for another day. 😉
I digress. Studies have shown that between 1990 (the cusp of the Millennial era) and 2010, the number of Americans surveyed who said they had no religious preference more than doubled—from 8 percent to 18 percent—somewhere around 25 million people—all “losing their religion.” And, one of the biggest factors for having religion in your life as you mature, is having been raised with religion. These numbers (and I’m sure they’re even higher five years on) don’t bode well for the future.
We know that Millennials are leaving (or never joined) organized religion in droves. To only name two groups, only 16 percent of Millennials today self-identify as Catholic, and 32 percent of Jewish Millennials describe themselves as having no religion, and only identify as Jewish on the basis of ancestry, ethnicity or culture.
There are quite a few factors driving this disinterest in religion among Millennials, including growing up reading about decades of scandal, and the fact that some churches cling to stodgy, old-school methods, from the sermons delivered to the music used to even—yes, it’s true—the aesthetics of the worship space.
Some churches. But not all. Many religious leaders have recognized the need to modernize and embrace technology—both inside and outside their houses of worship—if they are going to hold onto the Millennials they have, and actively grow those numbers, especially as they see Generation Z on the horizon.
Faith in the Time of Technology: An Introduction to the Modern House of Worship
But let’s take a step back a bit. Technological advancements rocking religion are nothing new. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, and the gospel began to shift from an oral tradition to written, it was revolutionary. The common man, generally under the thumb of a church that heavily controlled the dissemination of its teachings—of any teachings—could suddenly access knowledge.
And, as we all know, knowledge equals power. Fast forward more than six centuries, and religion is ready to face the next big tech transition—from in-person to online. In fact, this change has already begun and it is transforming the nature of worship for tech-driven congregations. What triggered this change?
The Internet Taketh, the Internet Giveth Back
We talked above about the rapid decline in Americans who self-identify as “religious.” There isn’t one single answer to explain this trend, but two of the major reasons believed to be contributing to this change are the rapid mainstreaming of the Internet (and now, mobile), and the huge chunk of the populace—Millennials—who were raised used to getting what they want, when they want it, at the swipe of a screen.
This growth of mobile and the Internet have opened the doors to knowledge, providing even the most economically depressed regions access to answers pertaining to life and religion. Dare I say, even science. The web is our modern day printing-press, if you will.
Listening to the gospel on Sundays is hardly incentive enough for the Millennial church-goer. The next-generation congregations need more than just verbal iterations to keep them coming back to the church, and modern houses of worship have taken to technology to help close the gap.
A typical service at today’s tech-assisted house of worship may include PA systems, large screen projectors, LCD/LED video displays, wireless hotspots, and a range of audio-visual systems. Many Churches are also harnessing the power of the Internet—using it to benefit their outreach rather than impede their growth—with apps, email campaigns, YouTube channels, and websites, and are capturing the Millennial’s attention through the use of interesting and informative online content.
So, what happens when faith and spirituality collide with technology?
Here are some stats from a recent study by Barna Group:
- Seventy percent of practicing Christian Millennials said they read scripture on a screen, with one third of all Millennials (practising or not) accessing the same on a smartphone or online, “…demonstrating how broadly the digital trends are shaping this generation.”
- Millennials also watch a lot of online videos—with 54 percent of practicing Christian Millennials and 31 percent of all Millennials watching videos pertaining to faith.
- A third of the Millennials surveyed use online search to scope out a church, temple, or synagogue. More than half of practicing Christian Millennials do the same. As Barna reports, “It may be that for Millennials, checking out a faith community online, from a safe distance, is a prerequisite for the commitment of showing up in person.”
- Millennials are also heading for the Internet to source and find spiritual content—with 30 percent actively exploring faith of some form, “…which may open up a new field of opportunity for churches hoping to understand and connect with these souls in cyberspace.”
Start Thinking Like a Marketer
Today’s modern day places of worship would be wise to start thinking like today’s modern day marketers when it comes to wooing back the Millennial cohort, many of whom are now having families of their own (see above re: the staying power of raising kids with religion!) Whether searching for a restaurant, the hippest neighbourhood, the newest gadgets, the latest trends, or dipping a toe into faith, Millennials’ digital habits remain the same.
Many of marketings best-practices when it comes to targeting Millennials transition easily to faith based organizations—and you don’t need a high priced marketing team to make good on some of these simple tips:
Get social. Grab your real-estate on social media sites such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and start engaging online with potential followers as well as other relevant organizations.
Deliver high quality content. Whether through video, webinars, blog posts, email newsletters, or live, videoconferences seminars, make sure your content provides value, and is interrupting and sharable enough that Millennials will want to share it within their digital communities.
Be mobile friendly. The traditional “donation plate” won’t work if no one is filling the pews. Consider “text to donate” – which nearly one in 10 of all Millennials say they do at least once a month (that number doubles among practicing Christian Millennials).
Keep it simple and convenient. Think about user-experience when designing your apps, websites or social accounts. Don’t be afraid to be a little contemporary, and spend a few dollars ensuring everything on your website is easily found, and easily accessed.
Image courtesy of Barna Group.
Once you’re on your way, don’t forget to track and analyze your data. Big data will go a long way toward enlightening faith based organizations as the Millennial super-group—currently numbering more than 85 million in the U.S. alone—continues to evolve.
For some people, the idea of tech-based Churches might seem a bit conflicting. Technology has traditionally been seen as an aberration to faith and religion. However, modern-day pastors are, wisely, prepared to bend a little. They view technology as simply another language, one today’s congregation uses and understands, and they are using this language to get their messages across, propagating faith and enhancing the overall worship experience.
And, of course, an added bonus is that this trend toward tech adoption within faith based communities not only has the potential to entice Millennials, it is also allowing Churches to reach parishioners who are homebound or otherwise unable to attend services.
This is not an “if you build it, they will come” scenario. But, when a full one quarter of the American population has been playing in the digital sandbox almost since birth, it’s a wise idea to think about at least venturing into the playground. And who knows? You might just enjoy that sandbox just as much as they do.
What do you think? Does your house of worship employ the latest tech trends? Do you access faith based content online more often that you attend a house of worship? I would love to hear your thoughts on today’s modern faith community.
Additional Resources on this Topic:
Why Millennials are Abandoning the Catholic Church
New Pew Data Shows Millennials Are Non-Traditional, Poor, Unmarried, Not White and Don’t Trust You
Millennials Are The Least Religious Generation Yet, And Here’s The Surprising Reason Why