There is a silent war going on in churches today. Nobody talks about it and many in the church are not even aware it is going on, but it continues day after day and the injuries, both to individuals and to the Kingdom of God, are immense. This is the war of communication expectations between talking on the phone, email, and texting.
Though this conflict can happen between any members of the church, for purposes of this article, I’m going to over simply it by sharing what I’ve seen happen many times between Boomer and Millennial age groups. Though I’m using these two groups as examples, read into them “Boomer and older” and “Millennial and younger”.
I’ll first give some examples and then suggestions for ways to improve the situation.
Here are some typical skirmishes:
A Boomer congregation member places a phone call to a Millennial Youth Pastor and leaves a message. No response. Boomer tries email. No response. Sunday comes around and Boomer angrily confronts Millennial, "I was going to give two scholarships to Winter Camp, but since you didn't have the courtesy to respond to my offer, the scholarship money has been donated elsewhere."
Millennial responds, “I’m really sorry. I didn't get any of your messages.”
Millennial Youth Pastor texts the Boomer age people in the church who have said they want to be part of the prayer team for youth. She is excited with the list she received from the church office and then sends them a series of Instagram links to images showing the kids they will be praying for at an upcoming strategy session at Starbucks.
When the time comes for the strategy session, only one person out of the 15 she sent multiple text messages to shows up. On Sunday, when she tries to be kind and ask why various Boomer individuals didn’t show up, she gets a combination of blank stares and replies of “You never contacted me” in response.
What is going on
In both groups, the person sending the message felt they were doing all they could to communicate. However, just sending a message is not the same as communicating a message.
In both cases the message was never received by the party it was intended for.
Before I get to specific advice on how to deal with this redemptively in the church, let’s step back and realize that we are at a unique time in the world of communication because, though we have many channels of communication available today, different groups use different tools that do not necessarily communicate with each other. Following are some examples of this:
Millennial communication channels
Many Millennials rarely talk on their phones—they don't answer them or listen to messages. Nor do they read email—they rarely sit down at a computer because they do everything with their phones. Except talk on them.
They text. A lot. They constantly scan and send social media on their phones. These are the communication channels they use.
The result is that if someone calls them or leaves a voice message or sends an email, chances are they won’t hear it or see it.
Boomer communication channels
Boomers talk on their phones. They listen to and leave messages. Many have no idea how to text, how to receive one or how to send one. Many of their phones don't have the texting app enabled or it may not be available. If they have it, they may not know how to use it.
For many Boomers their preferred method of technological communication is email, though many Boomers, and those older don’t even know how to use this. The Boomers who use email, assume everyone has email and responds to it.
The social media of choice for many Boomers is Facebook—but they use Facebook at home on a computer and they primarily look at the updates and ignore (or are not aware of) messages sent through Facebook. Many other social media simply aren’t on their radar.
Of course there are many exceptions to the examples above, but they are worth considering when communication problems arise.
Before practical solutions, as is always the case, let’s look at the spiritual solutions first.
For all age groups in the church we do well to remember that we serve a Lord, “did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom (Matt. 20:28).”
We are commanded to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, (Phil. 2:3).”
How then can we act with humility and a heart of service in our intergenerational communications? Here are some suggestions:
- Be honest in your print and online church communication listings. Many problems arise when a church lists staff email addresses, but the staff members do not answer their emails. Where this is particularly destructive, and happens often, is between youth pastors and parents, where the parents email and the youth pastor doesn’t respond.
- If an email address is given, staff MUST commit to checking and responding to email.
- If staff won’t do this and prefers to text, DON’T list their email. List a number they can be reached and specifically state “Pastor Jeff prefers to communicate via text.”
- In the church if you are on a committee or volunteer for a ministry or work with volunteers, before anything else, ask “What is your preferred communication method? Text, email, phone call?” Then respond in the way requested, even if that is not your preferred method.
- If you don’t know how to text, consider learning how to do it. If typing with one finger or your thumbs seems impossible, most phones today make it possible to send a text by dictating it into your phone.
- If you hate to respond to email—get an app on your phone and do it anyway.
- For Boomers, learn the latest social media tools from your kids or grandkids. They can be tremendously fun to use and as well as being able to communicate with the staff at your church it can open new ways to communicate with the younger people you love.
- For Millennials, answer your phone; call people to make sure they get a message. Yes, it takes lots more time, but it also can build relationships in a way short texts and tweets and images can’t.
- For all of us, another reminder that we are all servants of the Lord Jesus. Boomers have no right to feel superior because they’ve always done things a certain way and it still works for them; Millennials have no right to feel superior because they’ve conquered a new technology. We all serve the same Lord, who as Phil. 2: 6-8 reminds us:
Being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
May that be our attitude as we communicate with each other, no matter what tools we use.
These are not easy communication changes to make, particularly if you have to learn a new way to communicate, but waring communication methods hurt individuals and the church. Pray for patience and grace with yourself and each other and remember it’s not about you, but about keeping peace and growing the Kingdom of God.