Speaking to Millenials - Action Steps

This blog stems from speaking with ministers about reaching the Millenial generation (approximately 21 - 35 years of age). It is one of the most discussed issues facing churches today. How do we communicate with the next generation? More specifically, what steps or general plan should be undertaken to improve the way we communicate. Most of the ministers I have spoke to have little resources and little training in communication strategies, so understanding where to start and what steps to take are a challenge because times have changed.

There was a time when a person would leave the high school youth group, flounder through the college years and then when they started to make adult decisions they would recognize the folly of their ways and return to church. Not so anymore. Younger adults are putting off traditional adult decisions such as marriage and having children and many are not revisiting their faith in the same numbers of past generations.  Reaching this group can be difficult especially if the church is operating as if it were still the 90's.

We at Speiro believe there are two factors that need to be addressed when reaching this younger demographic. Below is a list of helpful steps to that can assist with the first. It can help with communicating in a way that young adults will understand using social media paired with search engine optimization to help make a church an alternative. We can also assist with improved visuals and identity materials that the younger generations will be receptive to.

But, the second factor is something that many churches need to address and is even more important than a communication strategy. It is the way that young people view the church as a whole and how we present Jesus to a cynical generation that is more geared towards less spiritual qualities such as fame, money and image and less focused on group affiliation and community. They have heard every sales pitch so they are skeptical of institutions including church. They yearn for "real" and need an authentic Jesus. Not Republican Jesus or Democrat Jesus, not liberal Jesus or conservative Jesus, not American Jesus, not white Jesus, not black Jesus, but authentic Jesus. The message needs to be cleaned, honed and examined. Then communicating that message can work to reach our communities. With that said here is a starting point and steps to improve communication.

Of course every plan has to start with prayer. It is vital. Pray about your church, who you are reaching, pray for guidance, who can help, additional resources, insight, understanding, strength, etc. Then do preliminary research.  Getting a general knowledge of what you are doing is vital. The internet is a tremendous resource, but contacting a communications specialist and talking things over is a better option. At Speiro we are always available and never a charge for a conversation. Once this is done, let your leadership team and staff know that you are looking at ways to improve the way the church communicates. Get them on board and build a team.

With the above in mind below is a general list of steps to consider. This list can be altered for different churches but there is logic in how you should proceed. It is just like building a house; you start with a plan, add a foundation, walls and infrastructure, throw in interior design and then add on when needed. Lastly, consistent upkeep is required. Communication is similar:

  1. The Blueprints - Nothing starts without a plan. First, objectively look at who you are and who you want to be. This should lead to a target demographic or a general idea of who you are speaking to, a vision and a mission. Zig Ziglar wisely said, "If you aim at nothing you will hit it every time." This statement has never been truer, because of the generational divide in communication devises is wider than ever. So formulate a plan that will communicate the way your target demo communicates. You should look at the need for an online presence but also how visitors see your church from exterior signs to the offering envelopes. Write this plan down.
  2. Lay a Foundation - An identity is crucial as all of your communication will rest on this element. If you don't have a consistent logo, get one. Same with a color pallet and consistent font and typeface. Your slogan needs to reflect your mission and vision in less than ten words. And a general template needs to be developed for all of your printed materials. Become a stickler for the usage on all materials from the weekly bulletin to the website. The identity should be based on your target demo and should clearly communicate who you are.    
  3. The Walls - The website is the walls of your structure and inside these walls is where everything will be housed. It is not the content but the place where you put the content. The purpose is to create a searchable website on any devise. This can be a simple website, but it must function in several ways. It must be able to be viewed on smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. It also has to be very easy for church staff to update and add pages. If the minister does not have someone that can add content to the site, then he must be able to post it himself. It has to be that easy (no offense). 
  4. Interior Design - Currently in search engines, content is king. It drives people to your site so your house must be filled with content that reflects who you are and what you want to say. Once the site it built it must become the place that all information about the church is housed. Articles, sermons, communion meditations, short videos, helpful info for visitors, service times, special events, location, press releases. Everything must be housed in one way or another in the website. There are specific strategies in how to place items in the site that are too detailed for the blog, but if you are wanting to be found by younger people looking for a relationship with God, you must be searchable. The content will make you an alternative for your community.
  5. Time for an Addition - Tell others who you are through social media and a blog. Consider who you are reaching and then think about the best alternative to communicate with them. Most immediately think of Facebook, however there are literally dozens of social media outlets. Ask your target demo or do some research on which ones to use. You don't have to be on all of them just a couple will do. Just like an addition to your house social media pages must match your website in look and logo. Use your content in social media to talk to your demo. 
  6. Upkeep - Meet with your team to measure your results at a minimum every other month. That means someone on your team must have a general working knowledge of Google Analytics as well as tracking the numbers of things like "likes", "posts", "views", "tweets" and "retweets". Discuss goals, make changes to goals, talk about successes, who needs to get more content and how to promote the content you produce.

Ultimately you will create a very searchable website and content that will challenge, inspire, inform and reflect Jesus to your current members, but also to the community. As you progress the content can contain searchable posts about life that can tell people about Christian faith and give them real answers about problems that people face today.

    These steps are obtainable in some degree by every church. Some can be more aggressive than others but it is more important to be steady. Nothing hurts a communication strategy more than not following through. Rolling out a Facebook page is great, but after 6 months are people still posting on it? Being consistent once you get started is vital. 

    One thing for sure, communication is not a one and done scenario, it is a never-ending process. For instance many churches were sold a bill of goods when it comes to a website. Websites were built with no strategy for increasing the search engine placement and they lay dormant hoping someone will eventually find them. That is wishful thinking, not a strategy. Many church websites can be compared to preaching to an empty church with the doors and windows open. Yes, the message is right but unless someone is walking past the church at just the right time no one will hear what is said. We need to use tools of the current age to reach our communities.

    Lastly, don't be afraid to get help! At Speiro we are ready and willing to assist you with your communications strategy. We can develop a plan with share responsibility or handle everything for you, we can provide training or just be a resource to bounce ideas off of. We are here to help you sow!

    Contact us at info@speirocom.net or contact us directly at 618.201.1534.