My family recently moved to Memphis. While moving is always stressful, the one aspect that my wife and I dread most about moves is “the church search.” We both hate visiting churches. We’re both introverted, a little guarded and, now, super protective of our daughter. All of those elements combined mean we like to learn as much about a church (as well as a ministry or person) as possible before we even consider attendance or involvement.
Being good Millennials, we lean on websites a lot. When we first learned we were moving to Memphis, I fired up Google and started researching churches in the area. We wanted to know about meeting times, child care, missions involvement, if they had an active college ministry, if they had any ministries to young married couples and about the staff — before we even considered visiting.
Our situation is not uncommon. I routinely meet freshmen at the beginning of the fall semester, and while some discovered BCM at student orientation or had a friend invite them, most found us simply by looking online. Of those who heard of us through more relational means, most of them checked our website to find out what we were about before considering attending anything we did.
According to the Barna Group, about one-third of all Millennials will check out a church, mosque or synagogue at some point. Among Christian Millennials, that number rises to 56 percent.  Experience would suggest this number is actually higher.
It’s more than having a website (or not)
Simply having a website isn’t enough for Millennials. We need to know about your church, your ministry and you. We should be able to learn from your website a little about your personality and your background, as well as the background, beliefs and priorities of your church or ministry. We should be able to see pictures or videos of your service, congregation, mission projects and members. When these things are lacking on your website but present on someone else’s, we will be more likely to try out the other place. Maybe it’s snobbishness, but it’s the way we operate and that will not be changing.
While not having a website is not a good thing and suggests a lot to Millennials (which are mostly negative), having a poor website suggests to us you think you’re in touch when you’re really not. If there are broken links, no personal information about you as the leader and no indication of what your church or ministry believes or prioritizes, it’s not effective, in spite of how attached you may be to the site.
But having a website isn’t the only way to engage Millennials online. As a ministry leader – whether that be as a pastor, small group leader or some other staff member – you ought to have a blog. WordPress and Blogger both have free, user-friendly platforms to get you started. One common objection I often hear to blogging is “But I don’t have that much to say.” If you are teaching regularly, even if it’s a small-group lesson, yes, you do! Create blog posts on points of a sermon or a small group study and go more in detail. Post about things you are learning or things you are doing with your family. Teaching isn’t the only point of having a blog to connect with Millennials. Let them get to know you through your posts.
Websites and blogs are only the beginning points. According to the Barna study cited above, Millennials also are more likely to search for spiritual content than previous generations. They also are more likely to make contributions online. Seventy percent of Millennials read their Bibles through some kind of digital format. Creating a Bible reading plan or devotional content to be submitted to or shared via a free Bible app is a great way to engage millennials.
Being online is important to engaging Millennials, but there is no cookie-cutter approach to being online. Spend some time getting to know the habits of Millennials around you. Be adventurous and try out some new things. You may need to invite a Millennial alongside you to help navigate the options, but it will be a worthwhile investment of your time to learn the technology and personally engage a Millennial. We love being recognized as valuable by those older than us.
 “How Technology is Changing Millennial Faith.” Barna.com. https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials/640-how-technology-is-changing-millennial-faith#.VAnVqEsQRFw (accessed 9/5/14).
Benjie Shaw is the campus minister at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Connect with him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @benjie_shaw.
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