Millenials have been surrounded by technology, computers, the Internet, social media, and mobile devices since birth. They are digital natives and they are starting to lead churches full of members who are not.
Left unattended, this difference in attachment to technology could bog down the effectiveness of the vision and strategy of younger leaders. As a company that builds technology for churches; we think, talk, and pray about issues like this.
As part of my research on this generational issue, I recently interviewed my 82 year old father who has led digital immigrant churches for the last forty plus years. I asked him for his suggestions to younger leaders on how to help older members adopt technology. These five suggestions grew out of that conversation.
- Don't assume they are against it. Older generations might be slower to understand and adopt the use of social media and apps, but they have been adapting to technology their entire lives. These newer technologies are not as intuitive as they are for younger generations. It takes longer for them to learn which requires patience on part of those teaching them. Hesitation is not opposition. Hesitation is merely questioning the quality and character of the teaching / learning process.
- Get the right volunteers to help. Ministry is necessary for every stage of life. There are ministries to children, youth, singles, couples, parents, dads, moms, empty-nesters, and shut-ins. Why not start a ministry to help members learn why and how to use technology in general and your church website, app, and Text-to-Church in particular. It could be a 3 to 5 week class or a one to one ministry for technology tutoring. An elementary understanding of the technology is all that's required. More importantly, these volunteers should be patient, gentle, and genuinely caring.
- Go slow and write out the steps. Start by asking older members about the technology changes they've navigated. They will tell you about microwaves, stereos, VHS, casettes, CDs, DVDs, cell phones and more. Listen to them. Learn from their stories. This communicates you care about them. It also will help you slow down to take the time to help them understand. Write out the steps so that they can review them later.
- Use language they already know. Don't assume they know what an icon represents or what gesture the device or app requires. Instead explain these using metaphors and language they are familiar with. Show them why and how the layout and navigation of the website or app relates to the vision and ministries of the church. Help them see how these tools are an extension of the church they know and love.
- Use tools they already know. One of my takeaways from the interview with Dad was the potential of text messaging for engaging older generations in particular. Younger generations love apps. But even they are growing fatigued with navigating a homescreen full of apps for every aspect of life. However, everyone uses text messaging. And this is one app our older church members already know. So, it makes sense to help them master the use of Text-to-Church. Take the time to help them understand how texting can be used to give, register, share prayer requests, volunteer, update preferences, see a directory, and more. It is the low hanging fruit of technology adoption.
So, here's my counsel. Millenials, as you take leadership of churches with older church members, be wise and consider these five ideas. In addition, ask your older members for other suggestions.
I guarantee that it will improve the adoption rate of the technology you want to use to enhance ministry. But, even more importantly, your older members will deeply appreciate your understanding and concern for them. They will know that you care. This will open their hearts to care about the technology you know.