Friday, May 17, 2013

Ministry Among Millennials: Clarifying Communications

Jason Evans

The Gospel, or Good News of God, is all about communication. In “The Baptismal Covenant” in The Book of Common Prayer we read the following:

Celebrant: Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People: I will, with God’s help.

In our worship, we declare the good news of what God has done in the world through Jesus Christ. We communicate this Gospel in more than words. Through sights, sounds, and smells we communicate God’s redeeming work in the world. Indeed, The Book of Common Prayer is itself a testament to the Episcopal Church’s historic intent on making interaction with the Good News as widely accessible as possible.

It is with this in mind that we address the subject of communication in regards to ministry among millennials. There’s no denying that the Internet has radically changed how we communicate. In fact, there isn’t much that the Internet has not had an impact on. Reading, dating, buying and countless everyday activities are much different than were a decade ago due to the web-based tools we have access to. It is safe to assume that how we engage the Internet has impacted the local parish as well. For millennials, navigating the Internet has become second nature. In the 1500’s the Anglican tradition used the technological advances at hand–the printing press, for example–to “proclaim” or communicate the Good News. In that tradition, how might we communicate with a generation coming of age with the communication technologies available to us?

The Millennial Impact Report released in 2012 documents a study on how millennials engage with nonprofit organizations. Religious institutions are different than other philanthropic organizations. Nonetheless, the findings offer insights for those churches interested in engaging young adults. For example, the study states that 65% of Millennials prefer to learn about nonprofits through websites, 55% prefer to discover these organizations through social media, 47% prefer to find nonprofits through e-newsletters. Less than 20% of millennials connected with nonprofits through print or face-to-face communication.

This does not mean that every church needs a flashy website. In fact, websites with too much are often the least effective. What this data does tell us is that the big red doors that lead into your worship space are no longer your “front door”–your website is. If so, how might we communicate clearly the good news breaking forth in our congregations and surrounding neighborhoods?

The Rev. Kyle Oliver is the Digital Missioner for the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary. A young adult himself, Oliver said, “A church’s website ought to give a visual sense of what the parish is like.” And this can be done with simplicity and clarity. The report referred to above states, “In one glance at your website [millennials] want to know what your organization is doing, how they can participate, and how their participation helps the cause.” To communicate this does not require lots of information. But it does require that it be visually compelling–not complicated. 

The Episcopal tradition prides itself on being hospitable and welcoming. Long gone are the days when a placard in our lawns was enough to communicate this truth. This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost–that miraculous moment in Christian history when the Spirit of God poured over his people and communicated the Good News of God in the language of all present. When we communicate, whether it be in a warm hug during the passing of the peace or through our websites, may we each consider how we communicate the Gospel in the “language” of those God seeks to embrace through us.

Jason Evans is the Diocesan Young Adult Missioner. This blog is part of a series on ministry with young adults that we will be featuring on Saturdays in May. Share your thoughts and reactions on Facebook.