In my first post on teaching millennials I established that new methods must be adopted and that successful ministers (whether lay ministers or the professional class) must be willing to engage millennials in new ways. I outlined 8 “Be’s” of effective ministry to millennials and promised follow-up posts explaining each point individually. This is the first in that series in which I will explain the importance of establishing and maintaining a presence online for effective ministry to millennials.
The Importance of Being Online
My wife and I just moved to Tennessee to start a new job. One element of moving that we both dread is “the church search.” We both hate visiting churches. We’re both introverted, a little guarded, and, now, super protective of our daughter. All of those elements combined mean we like to learn as much about a church (as well as a ministry or person) as possible before we even consider attendance or involvement.
Being good millennials, we lean on websites a lot. When we first learned we were moving to Murfreesboro I fired up Google and started researching churches in the area. We wanted to know about meeting times, child care, missions involvement, if they had an active college ministry, if they had any ministries to young married couples, and we wanted to know about the staff before we even considered visiting. Our situation is not uncommon. I’ve met a few freshmen at the beginning of the fall semester through my work on campus and while some discovered BCM at student orientation or had a friend invite them, others found us simply by looking online. Of those who heard of us through more relational means, most of them checked out our website to find out what we were about before considering attending anything we did.
According to the Barna Group, about 1/3 of all millennials will check out a church, mosque, or synagogue at some point. Among Christian millennials that number rises to 56%. Experience would suggest that this number is actually higher.
It’s More than Having a Website (Or Not)
Simply having a website isn’t enough for millennials. We need to know about your church, your ministry, or you. From your website we should be able to learn a little about your personality and your background as well as the background, beliefs, and priorities of your church or ministry. We should be able to see pictures or videos of your service, congregation, mission projects, and members. When these things are lacking on your website but present on someone else’s we will be more likely to try out the place we can learn more about online. Maybe it’s snobbishness, but it’s the way we operate and that will not be changing.
While not having a website is not a good thing and suggests a lot to millennials (which are mostly negative, by the way), having a poor website suggests to us that you think you’re in touch when you’re really not. If there are broken links, no personal information about you as the leader, and no indication of what your church or ministry believes or prioritizes, in spite of how attached you may be to the site, it’s not effective.
But having a website isn’t the only way to engage millennials online. As a ministry leader —whether that be as a pastor, small group leader, or some other staff member—you ought to have a blog. WordPress and Blogger both have free, user-friendly platforms to get you started. One common objection I often hear to blogging is “But I don’t have that much to say.” If you are teaching regularly, even if it’s a small group lesson, yes, you do! Create blog posts on points of a sermon or a small group study and go more in detail. Post about things you are learning or things you are doing with your family. Teaching isn’t the only point of having a blog to connect with millennials. Let them get to know you through your posts.
Websites and blogs are only the beginning points. According to the Barna study cited above, millennials are also more likely to search for spiritual content, whether that be advice or videos, than previous generations. They are also more likely to make contributions, be they tithes or other gifts, online. Seventy percent of millennials read their Bibles through some kind of digital format. Creating a Bible reading plan or devotional content to be submitted to or shared via a free Bible app is a great way to engage millennials.
Being online is important to engaging millennials but there is also no cookie-cutter approach to being online. Spend some time getting to know the habits of millennials who surround you. Be adventurous and try out some new things. You may need to invite a millennial alongside you to help you navigate the options, but it will be a worthwhile investment of your time to learn the technology and to personally engage a millennial. We love being recognized as valuable by those older than us.
 “How Technology is Changing Millennial Faith.” Barna.com. https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials/640-how-technology-is-changing-millennial-faith#.VAnVqEsQRFw (accessed 9/5/14).