Symbols are everywhere. Without a trace of text you can probably tell me what these images represent:
More than the identity of the brand, the above images evoke emotions, memories and associations. For some, the Starbucks logo may be associated with a morning routine. For others, the same image may be (wrongly) associated with an overpriced beverage they have no desire of consuming.
The rise of emojis has reinforced the idea that brand logos aren’t the only images that convey specific ideas, emotions or associations particularly with younger demographics. A recent ESPN commercial staring Coach K from Duke humorously depicts this reality:
Within the world of the church, communication has remained largely one-dimensional. The preferred method of communication and teaching leans heavily on lecture with an occasional illustration thrown in for good measure. Meanwhile, conversations and information dispersal have become increasingly compressed. Twitter condenses messages to 140 characters. SnapChat, the platform deemed most influential to Gen Z, features short video or picture messages that disappear in a matter of seconds. As Coach K’s commercial demonstrates, it is not uncommon for young adults to have entire conversations via text without utilizing language at all.
The church’s insistence on one-dimensional communication puts it at another distinct disadvantage: it reminds people of school. Most people do not enjoy lectures. Even if they find the information informative and the speaker engaging a prolonged teaching time conjures up associations of enduring schooling. And if you think Millennials have short attention spans you will hate Gen Z!
The church possesses at least two great visual representations of faith: baptism and communion. Unfortunately, many churches fail to fully utilize these visual representations of faith placing them as either precursors or addendums to a worship gathering leaving them entirely disconnected from the remainder of the service. While it could be argued that this practice fails to adequately elevate these activities to a proper place in worship, it is also increasingly evident that this relegation is pragmatically unhelpful and demonstrates a missed opportunity to communicate foundational principles of faith to a generation that is increasingly unfamiliar with it and with whom symbols resound.
As the church continues to lose ground among young people we must re-think the methods by which we communicate our faith, particularly the foundational elements. Baptism and communion offer beautiful visual representations of foundational elements of Christian faith regardless of denominational affiliation and are great places to begin making such a transition.