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Millennials and the Demise of Print: Five Implications for Churches

Millennials and the Demise of Print: Five Implications for Churches

Thom Rainer

As the president of an organization that has huge investments in both print and digital assets, I watch the trends related to the two closely. Current discussions focus on a few basic issues. First, digital communication is pervasive and growing. Any metric will affirm that reality. Second, print as a form of communication is suffering in most areas. Third, print will have occasional rebounds that will give print adherents hope that it is not going away. In the past couple of years, for example, print book sales have stabilized.

But a recent article by Henry Blodget in Business Insider shed some fresh perspectives on this issue. He notes the allegiance to print media is highly influenced by the age of the readers. Simply stated, the older you are, the more likely you are to like, or even prefer, print. Of course, that information is really stating the obvious.

The Stark Reality of the Future of Print

But Blodget notes recent research that is almost breathtaking. The research looked at media preferences for different age groups. The stark reality of the future of print is most noticeable in the 16-to-24 age group and the 25-to-34 age group. The Millennials have absolutely no loyalty to or preference for print media. Blodget’s words are worth repeating:

“Media consumers in the 0s, 10s, 20s, and 30s have no such print alliances. To them, the idea of printing on a dead tree and then trucking it to houses and newsstands seems ludicrous, old-fashioned, inconvenient, and wasteful. To these folks, paper-based publications are a pain to carry and search, easy to misplace, and hard to share, and the information in them is outdated the moment it appears. For those who weren’t raised on paper, digital is superior in almost every way.”

Wow. Those words are painful for an old print adherent like me. But facts are our friends, and I would rather deal with reality than deny reality.

Five Implications for the Church

Of course, after I read the article, my mind traversed quickly to implications for local churches. I see at least five at this point.

  1. Churches not fully acclimated to the digital age need to do so quickly. It’s a matter of gospel stewardship. There is no need to compromise biblical truths, but there is a great need to be relevant.
  2. More of our congregants will be turning on their Bibles in the worship services rather than opening them to a print page. Some pastors view this practice as troublesome. One pastor recently commented to me: “How do we know if they aren’t looking at sport scores or something else?” We don’t know. And we don’t know where their minds are wandering if they don’t have a digital device with them.
  3. Church leaders should view this change as an opportunity to be more effective missional leaders. We would not expect international missionaries to go to a place of service without learning the language and the culture. The language and the culture of the Millennials are all digital.
  4. Leaders must keep current with changes in the digital revolution. While old guys like me will never be as conversant with the digital culture as our children and grandchildren, we must do our best to understand this ever-changing world. What is current and relevant today may be dated and irrelevant tomorrow.
  5. Social media is a key communication form for the Millennials; churches and church leaders must also be connected. I recently wrote an article on this issue. For now, a church not involved some way in social media is neglecting a large part of the mission field.

Implications and More Implications

I recently was reading a print magazine article to one of my grandsons who was cuddled in my lap. He saw a photo on the page and tried to swipe it like he would on an iPad. When nothing happened he declared my “picture was broken.”

That is the age and the era that are quickly approaching. The implications are many and staggering. But we in churches cannot be complacent. The very communication of the gospel is at stake.

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 14, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

Nine Rapid Changes in Church Worship Services

Nine Rapid Changes in Church Worship Services

Thom Rainer

If you were attending a church worship service in 1955 and then returned to the same church in 1975, the changes would be noticeable but not dramatic. Churches were slow to change over that 20-year period. If you, however, attended a church worship service in 2000 and then returned to that same church in 2010, there is a high likelihood you would see dramatic changes in just ten years.

What, then, are some of the most significant changes? Please allow me to offer some trends from anecdotal information, church consultations, and objective research. As a caveat, some of the data based research comes from an excellent study, The National Congregations Study by Duke University. This study, fortunately, is longitudinal, so it is able to look at changes over many years. But the study is also dated, with the latest data reported in 2007.

From these multiple sources, I have assembled nine changes that have come at a rapid pace in many churches. Please note my perspective. I am offering these from the perspective of a researcher; I am not making qualitative assessments. Also, with every trend there will be thousands of churches that are exceptions to the norm. But these are the changes in the majority of churches in North America.

  1. Choirs are disappearing. From 1998 to 2007, the percentage of churches with choirs decreased from 54% to 44%. If that pace holds to this year, the percentage of churches with choirs is only 37%.
  2. Dress is more casual. In many churches, a man wearing a tie in a worship service is now among the few rather than the majority. While the degree of casual dress is contextual, the trend is crossing all geographic and demographic lines.
  3. Screens are pervasive. Some of you remember the days when putting a projection screen in a worship center was considered a sacrilege. Now most churches have screens. And if they have hymnals, the hymnals are largely ignored and the congregants follow along on the screens.
  4. Preaching is longer. I will soon be in the process of gathering this data to make certain the objective research confirms the anecdotal information.
  5. “Multi” is normative. Most congregants twenty years ago attended a Sunday morning worship service where no other Sunday morning alternatives were available. Today, most congregants attend a service that is part of numerous alternatives: multi-services; multi-campuses; multi-sites; and multi-venues.
  6. Attendees are more diverse. The Duke study noted the trend of the decrease in the number of all-white congregations.
  7. Conflict is not increasing. In a recent post, I noted the decreasing frequency of worship wars. The Duke study noted that overall church conflict has not increased over a 20-year period.
  8. More worship attendees are attending larger churches. Churches with an attendance of 400 and up now account for 90% of all worship attendees. Inversely, those churches with an attendance of under 400 only account for 10% of worship attendees.
  9. Sunday evening services are disappearing. This issue has stirred quite a bit of discussion the past few years. I plan to expand upon it in my post this coming Saturday. Stay tuned.

I have tried to present these changes from a research perspective instead of injecting my opinions or preferences. Obviously, I have my own, but I would rather hear from you. The readers at this blog are much smarter than I am anyway.

Do you see these trends in your local congregation? What would you add?

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on May 7, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

2 comments

  • Steve Hayes

    Interesting stuff, but all of this is simply window dressing…in my opinion (and I am not really sure when the change occurred)the most disturbing change in the American Church (at large) has been the move away from accurate theology and actual belief in God’s word. The church has adopted pop theology, engaged in pop marketing, limited (and/or completely excluded) God’s involvement, and has essentially become “nice people club.” Now, I love the Church and I like nice people, but when you can’t distinguish between the Church and the United Way, something is missing…God and faith in his word

Seven Ways to Hurt Your Pastor

Seven Ways to Hurt Your Pastor

Seven-Ways-to-Hurt-Your-Pastor

By Thom Rainer

If you really want to hurt your pastor, then this blogpost is for you.

This past week alone, I had conversations with dozens of pastors. These pastors love their churches and the members. They are really committed to their callings.

But they are real people who can really be hurt.

The pastors I spoke with this past week shared with me seven common themes of the things that hurt them the most. So, if you really want to hurt your pastor, follow these guidelines carefully.

  1. Criticize the pastor’s family. Few things are as painful to pastors as criticizing their families, especially if the criticisms are related to issues in the church.
  2. Tell the pastor he is overpaid. Very few pastors really make much money. But there are a number of church members who would like to make the pastor feel badly about his pay.
  3. Don’t defend the pastor. Critics can be hurtful. But even more hurtful are those who remain silent while their pastor is verbally attacked. Silence is not golden in this case.
  4. Tell your pastor what an easy job he has. It can really sting when someone suggests that the pastor really only works about ten hours a week. Some actually believe that pastors have several days a week off.
  5. Be a constant naysayer. Pastors can usually handle the occasional critic. But the truly painful relationships are with church members who are constantly negative. How do you know you’ve succeeded in this regard? The pastor runs the other way when he sees you.
  6. Make comments about the pastor’s expenditures. I heard it from a pastor this past week. A church member asked, “How can you afford to go to Disney World?” Wow.
  7. Compare your pastor’s preaching and ministry unfavorably to that of another pastor. Many times the member wants you to know how much he or she likes that pastor on the podcast compared to you. If you really want to hurt your pastor, you can make certain he knows how inferior he is.

So, if your life’s goal is to hurt your pastor, one or more of these approaches will work just fine.

But, if you are like most good church members, you want the best for your pastor. So just do the opposite of these seven.

And if you are worried that your pastor will not remain humble unless someone puts him in his place, don’t worry. There will always be plenty of those other church members around.

Do you identify with these seven items? What would you add?

This article was originally published at ThomRainer.com on June 16, 2014. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.

6 comments

  • i would add this
    (inspired by a female pastor friend):
    8. Don’t assume all pastors are men.

    Not trying to pick a fight, and I understand there are different viewpoints on women pastors, but wouldn’t it make sense to at least acknowledge this with “she or he” language? I don’t see anything on your beliefs page that mentions this.

    Thanks for your good work

  • Barry L. Davis

    We have never been that worried about being politically correct.

  • Amanda Cash

    Respectfully, gender inclusive language is the norm in many, many denominations and traditions that ordain women. It’s about a lot more than being politically correct, and instead shows respect and value to female pastors as equally called (and, in the context of this article, equally capable of being hurt by her church).

    Thanks for these words. I have been gravely hurt by church people using several of the things on this list.

  • Tristan Black

    I just wanted to say something about the gender issue raised here.

    “27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

    Does the above offend you? Being called man, in His Own Image? God called you and I, “man”, male and female.

    PC has destroyed this nation and ruined a lot of it’s language. It is easy to offend, but forgiveness has been left behind.

    Do not take offense, for you are dead in yourselves and alive in Christ Jesus. For how can a dead man be offended? http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Bible-Verses-About-Not-Being-Offended/

    I know these are difficult…to abide in. It’s very hard for me too…But we must, this is to not be worldly…And to trust in YHWH and know He’ll defend Himself…as you are His and IN Him.

  • Tristan Black

    Also Amanda, just because everyone does it, doesn’t mean it’s correct or right in the Eye’s of YHWH. If lemmings are running to the edge of the cliff…does it mean they’re right? Or blind, heading to their own destruction…

  • Pastor Rick

    remember what James says about the tongue 3:5-8,10, the tongue is like a two edge sword.

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