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Last year, while sitting among 37,000 Clemson football fans at the Spring Game, I observed a smartphone culture phenom. A girl — maybe 18 or 19 years old — sat on the row in front of me, staring at her cell phone. From my angle, I couldn’t help but see her thumb furiously scrolling down her Instagram feed so quickly that the photos barely had time to load.

Every few moments she would stop for a millisecond to tap a photo twice to “like it” and keep scrolling. I don’t know how her eyes even registered the photos that her brain apparently interpreted favorably every couple of seconds. How could she process what she was “liking”?

It got me thinking…

Technology advances influence the behavior of each rising generation. I’m not going to debate the sometimes absurdity of that behavior. The point is, technology changes culture, and each generation is left to figure out how to sort the good from the bad impact it’s having on their lives.

The relevance of this goes beyond church communications. I’m a firm believer the Church needs to take advantage of new tools to build the Kingdom, but studying technology is also a cultural expedition. It’s modern ethnography.

If you were going to be a missionary to a village in the Amazon for the next 20 years, you would start by learning the language, understanding their customs and tools, and figuring out how the people live and make sense of their world.

The next generation — even in our own country — deserves that same diligence.

Here are just a few of the recent major cultural shifts related to American young people and technology, and some questions you should be asking yourself:

1) Many teens now favor tech over clothes, and restaurant environments are increasingly popular hangouts because of free Wi-Fi. via NY Times

  • Are you creating Wi-Fi environments that make teens want to hang around your facilities?
  • How tech and social media savvy is your student pastor? It may matter more than whether or not he dresses like a hipster.

2) Young women, in particular, have become obsessive about posting selfies and garnering the reaction of friends. Not unexpectedly, they also typically struggle with low self-esteem. via Teen Vogue

  • How are you addressing the “selfie” culture in your church?

3) Teenagers are less interested in driving and owning a car than ever before. A smartphone connects them with their friends 24/7. via NY Times

  • How is your current student ministry strategy dependent on car transportation?
  • How are you equipping your student pastor and volunteers to reach students where they are (online)?

4) Even MTV is losing traction with Millennials. Why? They haven’t figured out a mobile strategy quickly enough, and Millennials don’t want to pay for cable. via The Street

  • Are you relying too heavily on what used to be cool to teens and young adults even just five years ago? Jersey Shore was a MTV hit, but that was 2010. Now the network is tanking. Culture moves on quickly.
  • What is your mobile strategy?

5) YouTube stars are more popular than mainstream celebrities. via

  • How many YouTube celebrities can you name? It’s not enough to keep up with what movies young adults and teens are watching.
  • Do you have a YouTube strategy? Its potential to reach people is greater than a TV ministry, streaming your sermons on your website, or even uploading all your video clips to Vimeo.

6) 24% of teens go online “almost constantly,” facilitated by the widespread availability of smartphones. 92% go online at least daily. via Pew Research, April 2015

  • How are you spending resources on online and mobile strategies as compared to your events and facilities budgets? Online may matter more in the long run.

These are just a few of the cultural shifts technology has brought about in recent years. As church leaders, we need to be students of technology and its impact on culture. Tech is constantly influencing both the people we’re trying to reach and the methods we’ll need to use to reach them.


Photo Credit: Hubspot

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