Reaching Digital Natives
The startling findings of a 15 year old
I know a young couple who recently got married and have chosen to have no internet connection, phone connection or stereo system. No they’re not Amish, they just own an iPhone.
Their iPhone single-handedly provides them with 3G internet, a phone number and all the music or movies they want (they tell me it certainly saves them space and paying for two separate bills).
15-year-old Matthew Robson recently shocked the business world with his controversial paper on the media consumption habits of teenagers (check it out). It may not have received so much publicity had it not been published as a research note by Morgan Stanley. It caused such a stir because there are some pretty serious implications for ‘old media’ businesses if tomorrow’s generation cannot be reached by television, radio and newspapers.
Robson’s paper seemed to suggest that there were three simple ways to reach his peers:
1. The internet – via their computers
2. The internet – via their consoles, and...
3. The internet – via their mobiles
After reading it, part of me was amused at how such ‘old news’ to most youth leaders could make the so-called ‘experts’ sit up and pay attention. Another part of me was not so amused upon realising that the experts will actually do something about this, while the church lags far behind.
Those of us in youth ministry are well-acquainted with the fact that most teenagers can’t comprehend a world without iPods, the internet, mobiles and Xboxes. Yes we know the Internet is important, but most of us are scared of child-protection policies, high website costs and the sheer administrative burden of creating and maintaining a good-looking, functional, basic website. We feel guilty about not having a web presence for our youth groups so we go and create a token Facebook page or MySpace page, which sits (largely inactive) in cyberspace until we quietly forget about it.
In short, there is room for improvement when it comes to youth groups connecting with young people online.
However, there is one thing youth groups do very, very well: connecting with young people offline.
How many of you have experienced that glorious amazement when the so-called ‘fringe’ kid shows up at youth group with another five friends in tow? Ten friends in tow? Have you ever wondered what on earth compelled them to come?
It’s simple: relationships.
Observe their online behaviour: whose Facebook walls are teenagers posting on? Whose photos and updates are they commenting on? Who are they sharing funny videos with? Who are they gaming with? Who is the all-important audience driving their online activities?
No amount of technological progress can change the fact that God has made us in His image, designed for relationship with others. The apostle John puts it beautifully in his second epistle,
“I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete”.
Though teenagers crave genuine, offline relationships more than ever, they are looking for it online. The question is, will they find answers from marketers looking to steal their hearts (and wallets) or from Christians who genuinely care about them?