Have you sat in a restaurant or in a line at the DMV and just observed? Like really watched people? Are people connecting with those around them? Or are they immersed in the five-inch screens in their hands? How are they interacting with their surroundings?
I do not judge; I’m just as guilty. But a few weeks ago I watched as a seasoned couple sat through their entire lunch, and not once did they look up at each other. Not once. I don’t know what they were doing on their phones. Maybe they were texting their children, working remotely for lunch, on social media, checking the news, or playing solitaire.
Again, I don’t judge because I truly saw myself in them. How often do we live in the present? We miss those around us because we’re more concerned about the devices in front of us. The glowing light of a smartphone attracts us more than the glowing light of our loved ones’ faces.
Millennials Don’t Use Social Media to Foster Deep Connections
I’ve been working in campus ministry for a year and a half. I’ve been able to connect with some pretty outstanding young people. Yes, I’m “friends” with them on Facebook and Instagram, but I’d like to say that most of the time, we truly connect with our young people when they swing by. They walk into our office and pull up a chair. They might tell us their struggles, but a lot of the time it’s just that: connecting. We get the joy of sharing in all the moments—the big and small!
Young adults are using social media, but they aren’t using it to connect deeply with others. I wrote last month about GroupMe and how we use it in our ministry to communicate with young people, but many of the students and young adults who we work with prefer email or text message to receive information. One student told me the only reason she still uses Facebook is because our ministry still does.
Phone “Addiction” Affects More Than Just Young People
I think often the younger generations get a bad rep for abusing their smart devices. But I would like to suggest that the addiction is not specific to one age group or demographic.
After interviewing a psychologist and psychiatry professor, NPR wrote an article that said, “The average adult checks their phone 50 to 300 times each day. And smartphones use psychological tricks that encourage our continued high usage—some of the same tricks slot machines use to hook gamblers.”
A news story I saw a few weeks ago paneled a room full of young adults. After the story, the reporter said something like, “I know that Millennials get a bad reputation for being addicted to their phones, but I’d like to add that not once during the hours of interviews did one of these young people pull out their phone.” That struck me. Have we put this addiction stereotype only on Millennials?
I just had a conversation this week with a graduate student about smartphone addiction. She mentioned that many of her peers would like to downgrade to a flip-phone or a simplified smartphone that would offer minimal apps like maps, lists, and a calculator. She specifically said that it would not have email or social media apps. To be honest, I see the appeal.
How Your Church Can Connect with Young People
So, you might be wondering, “How do we connect with these young people at church?” Just connect. Take notice of them in your fellowship areas and sanctuaries. Invite them over for dinner or out for lunch. Introduce them to other young adults.
I’d like to share a personal story about when my husband and I moved to Dallas, Texas. We are Midwesterners who were sent to North Dallas for a career move in our twenties. I was unemployed while my husband worked seventy-hour weeks. To say I was lonely and homesick was probably an understatement. We’d been married about two or three weeks when we visited our future church home for the first time.
During the service time allotted for greeting one another, a couple in their late fifties was sitting behind us. We said hello, as there was not much time for anything else, but afterward Carl and Dorothy talked with us and then invited us out to lunch.
At lunch, they told us about themselves and their church, its ministries, and its people. They asked if they could pass along our contact information to another young couple. We obviously said yes. And a few weeks later, a group of young adults caught us after a service and invited us into their small group. We now have lifelong friends . . . because Carl and Dorothy, a couple our parents’ age, invited us out to lunch.
Use Social Media to Support Ministry, Not Be Ministry
I share our story because I want to emphasize that communicating and connecting with young adults in our churches does not have to be flashy or elaborate. It can be holistic and simple. And as easy as saying “good morning” and showing an interest.
I’m at the front end of the millennial generation, and from my personal perspective, it often seems that young adults are forgotten about in churches. These individuals crave community—authentic community. They are looking for opportunities to grow in their faith, to dig deeper in the Word together, and to be challenged. They want their churches to take notice of them, to recognize that God has gifted them with talents that should be utilized, and they want a seat at the grown-ups’ table.
To quote one of our earlier articles, Adult Ministry for 20-Somethings: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention social media when talking about my age group. My advice? Use it to enhance ministry; don’t rely on it. . . . Really, ministering to twenty-somethings is easy once you recognize what they value: community, relationships, and faith. Most are earnestly seeking a relationship with God and with others their age who will encourage them in their faith walk. Don’t get hung up on the fact that their lives look different from those who are older or younger; acknowledge that this group is different, but capitalize on their desire to become connected and help them find their niche in your church.”
So how can we use technology to enhance ministry to young adults? Here are three ideas:
- Connect individually between gatherings. Email, text, group message, or use social media messengers to connect individually with your young adults.
- Boost ministry communication. Send reminders, invites, and ministry information through social media, email, and text messaging. Keep your young adults informed about how they can connect with one another and their church family outside of Sunday worship and programming. Give them opportunities to grow, serve, and connect.
- Build and solidify relationships. Use technology to dig deeper together. Use texting or a group messenger app to check in with your young adult group. Ask them questions about their week, how God is moving in their lives, how they have reflected on the previous week’s study, and how you can pray for them. Young adults don’t care for the traditional programming we’re so used to at church. They like holistic and authentic groups. Send a spontaneous message inviting them out for a movie, to your home for dinner, or to a pick-up game of basketball.
Rather than using technology to replace good old-fashioned community, care, and face-to-face connections, we should use it to enhance, enable, and supplement our ministries.
Want to hear from Millennials themselves? Watch our live conversation with college students about how they use social media.
Thursday, June 28 at 11:30 a.m. (CDT) on Facebook