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Your Church Needs an Intergenerational Communication Plan

intergenerational communication

My family recently went through a scare that made me think about an intergenerational communication plan. My daughter and some of her friends were in our local mall when a shooting occurred. It was, as you can imagine, a terrifying experience for all and we are grateful that we were able to get to the girls as quickly as we did and the impact on them was frightening but minimal. I bring this up only to illustrate a point.

When the event happened, all of us immediately turned to our phones to get the news to find out what had actually taken place. My husband and I jumped on Facebook, the girls jumped on Instagram, and our family in other states turned to Google for information.

As a result, the information we were gleaning about a single event had a very different feel and unique content depending on where we accessed it.

My information came almost entirely from local news stations, my daughter and her friends were seeing a lot of “first hand” videos and testimonies, and my out-of-state family was getting Associate Press updates.

The result? We all had bits and pieces of information about the incident but none of us had the whole story.

It was as if we all had pieces to a puzzle, some more than others, but none of us had the entire picture. It took coming together, talking to each other, and giving enough time and space for information to be made public for the puzzle to come together.

Not surprisingly, this example of information gathering is a characteristic of the generation gap we experience in America. The advancement of technology has impacted how and with whom we communicate.

Information is distributed through a variety of means from digital to print, radio to television, word of mouth to public speaking. However, more and more, the move from traditional print materials, radio news, and face-to-face conversations towards digital, video and public voices is changing the landscape of information distribution and consumption.

Due simply to a lack of access or lack of ability to use digital constructs, older adults can be unintentionally excluded from certain forms of digital communication (Source). Conversely, due to a lack of lack of access or lack of knowledge to use non-digital constructs, younger generations are unexposed to things like print media and in-person interactions. These technological and communication differences act to perpetuate the digital divide between generations.

Research gathered by Pew Research show that over 90% of young adults ages 18-29 are active on social media as compared to only 35% of older Americans, 65 years of age and older.

  • Sprout Social reports that 72% of 13-17 year olds and 64% of 18-29 year olds use Instagram while only 21% of 50-64 year olds and 10% of 65+ year olds use Instagram.
  • Of 271,000,000 Twitter users who are active every month the number of users between 51 and 60 years was roughly 2,981,000 or about 1% of the users.
  • Princeton and New York University researchers found that eleven percent of users older than 65 shared an article consistent with the study’s definition of fake news. Just 3% of users ages 18 to 29 did the same.

Changes in technology and communication have consequently exacerbated the gap between the youngest and oldest generations leading to a continued growth in age segregation and generational divide.

Rather than create an inclusive space that leads to more conversation, the lack of intergenerational connectivity has caused more isolation.

Churches can fall into this same pattern of generational hit-or-miss communication by choosing avenues that appeal to certain age groups while neglecting others. In her book Faith Formation 2.0, Julie Anne Lytle looks at the different generations that are typically represented in an average church and how they tend to communicate. She offers the thought that if we are not communicating an event or offering communication in at least seven unique formats, we are missing someone in our audience.

How does that play out?

Let’s say that the church is hosting a Combined Worship services where all church members, regardless of age or preferred worship style, will attend. In order to ensure that this is communicated to the entire audience a church will want to:

  1. Announce the service from the pulpit
  2. Place an announcement with date, time, and description in the bulletin
  3. Send an email (or two) to the entire congregation
  4. Place all pertinent information on the website in more than one location
  5. Include information on social media platforms
  6. Send a text message to members who have indicated text as a preferred method of communication
  7. Offer a personal invitation to members (visit the youth group, drop by a Sunday School class, phone call, etc.)

That may feel like overkill but each generation will tend to access the information in different ways and if one avenue is overlooked, there is a potential that someone may never know the event is happening.

There is a tee shirt that is frequently worn in KidMin circles that simply says, “It was in the bulletin!” Often, children’s pastor and youth ministers express frustration that members will tell them that they didn’t know an event was happening. But that truly could be because the information wasn’t offered in a format that is normally accessed by that person or group of people so, in their mind, the event was never announced.

Fortunately, once we realize the importance of intergenerational communication platforms and how to access generations, we have a much better chance of bridging the gap and finding ways to bring generations together.

In fact, just as was highlighted above, each generation likely brings an important piece to the puzzle and together we can see the whole picture. Creating space in our churches for this to happen is one way we can begin to integrate the ages in our faith communities and move forward in serving the Lord and each other together.

This article about an intergenerational communication plan originally appeared here.

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Christina is wife of Pastor Luke and mom to Hannah, Naomi, and Caleb. She has been serving in ministry since 2010, first as a director of children's ministry and now as a family minister near Lexington, KY.