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How to better communicate with a younger generation | W. David Phillips

How to better communicate with a younger generation

In the previous two posts in this series, I described the declining educational system and its impact on younger adults. Today I want to provide suggestions to help us communicate better in light of this decline.

1. Communicate in short stories. I was taught in preaching to follow this pattern: explanation, illustration, application. We need to consider changing the pattern to narration and (some) application. This does not mean you cannot explain the text. It also does not mean you cannot illustrate the text. But you explain and illustrate through short, narrative stories.. Think parable. Now who do we know that used parables to teach?

In fact, if I were to generalize, I would say that the Old Testament and the Gospels with their narrative style is a better communication strategy than the Epistles in the New Testament.

2. Communicate in images, not words. This culture is image-driven. Instead of points, use images. Images tell a story very easily. It is also the method that requires the smallest amount of brain power become the brain actually translates everything coming through the senses into an image. No acrostics. Very little “points” via powerpoint. Paint pictures with words if you must. Think verbal imagery.

3. In large groups, use soundbites. In small groups, go deep. Young adults have neither the context, vocabulary nor logical thinking processes available to them. Why? They are not readers and they do not store knowledge. Knowledge for them is always in the cloud, accessible through a google search.

Reading develops vocabulary and the ability to follow argumentation. When you are communicating with a large group, short, sound-bitish phrases that get directly to the point is what is needed. Young adults will not follow your in-depth argumentation. Small groups (2 or 3) or one-on-one mentoring is where you can lead them along in explanation. But even then, the more you use narrative, the better off you will be. You will have to train them to think.

4. Communicate interactively. The “buster” generation was raised on television. This was a passive activity. Today, young adults (and even some older adults), though also raised on television are more involved in web 2.0: facebook, twitter, and blogs. The web is a social medium. It is participatory. People are content creators. People have adapted to interactive communication.

If you do all the talking and do not allow people to ask questions or be involved in your communication, they will turn you off. If they don’t turn you off, they will tweet about what you’re saying or put it on facebook. While you are saying it. Since that is happening, you might as well learn to develop a participatory communication style.

Impact on church size?
Does this impact the size of a church? Possibly. It can be difficult to be fully participatory in a megachurch. I have heard Len Sweet say that he was able to do it in a group of about 2,000. Since megachurches are a product of the boomer generation, it may be that the next generation of churches will be smaller and more intimate. It is at least something to consider.

Who should you read?
There are several people I would suggest that you read that can help you communicate to young adults. I would not be concerned with what they write, especially since one has recently been called a heretic by some. Examine their style, their language, their stories. These people include:

1. Seth Godin
2. Margaret Feinberg
3. Rob Bell
4. Stephenie Meyer (author of the Twilight series of books)

What do you think about these suggestions? Are their others? Any pushback?

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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