"I want my MTV."
If you were a teenager in the 80's you probably remember when MTV started. Cable TV was a new idea and no one really knew if it would take off. I vividly remember hanging out with my junior high buddies watching the launch and thinking about how cool it was to see music on TV. After a few years, MTV was not only a staple on cable networks, but it quickly became a voice for culture and most of my friends spent a lot of time listening to that voice. They played music videos back then, not lifestyle programs and reality shows we see today. And even though we had to sit through commercials and some pretty bad videos, we were drawn into the wonder of what might come next. The voice became so familiar because it was always on.
Fast-forward 30 years and nearly every kind of content is “always on.” And so are the kids who were raised since the turn of the century. According to Jana Anderson, a leading researcher on the AO Generation, "They have grown up in a world that has come to offer them instant access to nearly the entirety of human knowledge, and incredible opportunities to connect, create and collaborate."
They are connected to each other in a way never imagined. Not just through sports, or school, or neighborhoods, but through their mobile devices and a web of social media applications. Trying to understand the AO generation requires the skills of a software programmer, the experience of a sociologist, and the communications skills of an ad agency. They are hard to reach because they communicate so often through electronic media and yet they can sniff out authenticity immediately. They have been bombarded with thousands of messages a day since they could see the screen and have become experts in blocking out the noise and making snap judgments on content they want.
As a ministry, we all know we need to reach young people. But how do we effectively reach this group? Here are some suggestions.
- Be Authentic - As I said, these kids have been trained like drug sniffing dogs to smell out the tricks. They have an instant understanding of authentic content and when we’re pushing something on them. Your church needs to be authentic about who you are and what you’re trying to say to them.
- Don’t Bait and Switch - I’ve seen many churches present edgy ideas and provocative content, only to pack kids into an event and preach at them. If you’re trying to reach kids, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. If you’re doing an event, tell them what and who you’re about first and then work to build real relationships, online and offline.
- Don’t Jesus Juke - The Jesus Juke is when you take every conversation and turn it back to Jesus in an effort to condemn the person. For example, if a student tells you, “I had an awesome time at a party last night,” the Jesus Juke would be a response like, “Wow, if Jesus was there, how would He feel about that?” In reality, there’s a lot of ways to have that conversation without alienating a hurting kid. And, let’s assume a lot of these communications are through text, email or Facebook. You can’t blow someone up online and expect them to trust you and your faith. Kids like to talk about themselves once they can trust you. Keep it about them and about grace. You may be the only version of Jesus they know.
- Raise Up Young Leaders - Kids often respond best to kids. Find the young leaders within your church that know how to communicate, and train them to reach their peers. One of the reasons youth focused ministries such as YoungLife are so successful is that they understand the effectiveness of the “key kid.” That is, the kid who everyone likes and respects can do an incredible amount of ministry without having to force anything. Once you’ve harnessed a core group of loyal kids, they will generously lead the charge on your behalf, armed with a social networking arsenal to blanket the online world. Empower them.
- Earn the Right to Be Heard - Always On kids don’t trust easily and they don’t bond quickly. Earning that trust takes time and effort. And that typically means that you have to get into their online world and their physical world. Call it old school, but I still believe the AO generation has an innate desire for real relationships that go beyond the screen.
I still want my MTV…but it’s not really the MTV I used to know. That voice has become something else altogether these days. Looks like I’ll have to settle for my Pandora.