As more and more young people actively avoid ads and marketing tactics, it can be more than a little daunting for churches to reach out to them. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't.
Why reach out to younger generations
There are an estimated 162.6 million people under 40 in the United States. Millennials are 23 to 38 years old, while the next generation – dubbed Gen Zers – is between 7 and 22. The dividing line between the generations is a little blurry. While many consider both millennials and post-millennials “young,” the two groups have distinctly different ways of interacting with and viewing the world.
Within each are singles, parents, young families, students, workers and teenagers. When seeking to reach them, focus on the different social groups and life stages rather than the generation.
As a church that claims to be outwardly focused, we need to understand and serve our ever-changing communities. These two generations are shaping the world as they outnumber those in other generations.
When we talk about millennials and post-millennials, we need first to think “diverse.” It’s not a matter of should we be more diverse, it’s a matter of how can we reach younger, diverse generations. As a multicultural, young person, let me share three tips for reaching other people like me.
Focus on universal values
With nearly half of these generations made up of racial/ethnic minorities, you’re likely asking how to market to such a diverse population.
While most aren’t immigrants to the United States, many from this generation still hold their background culture and traditions close. However, they have also grown up in the 21st century North American society. They have been exposed to more cultures, lifestyles and expressions than previous generations. They embrace the diversity they experience and demand it.
Communication and travel are easy for many of them. They expect the organizations they associate with – including churches – to be just as globally focused. To reach young people, focus on themes and causes such as love, faith, belonging, social justice, global conflicts and other issues to which diverse people can relate.
Younger people support organizations that are making a positive impact in the world. Show how they can share these values and stand for these causes with your church. Present opportunities to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Focus on the people
According to one study, “59% of Gen Zers said they trust the brands they grew up with.” An organization has only a few seconds to capture the attention of a young person. However, once they’re engaged, they’re willing to learn as much as they can.
Youth and young adults want to be reached through omnichannel marketing. At the same time you’re sharing your church’s values and mission statement, provide ways for them to share their feedback. Millennials and post-millennials are more likely to engage with brands and companies that offer transparent relationships and will listen to them.
Create opportunities both to share about yourself and to invite a response by voting on a poll, entering a contest or giving feedback. Consider a call to action that requests content or offers incentives to attend the next Bible study. Don’t stop there.
Offer follow-up and a continuing relationship as your church and this audience co-create messaging and ministry opportunities. Be prepared to share information about your church online via stories, pictures, infographics, video content and podcasts on multiple platforms, such as social media, web and email. And don’t neglect in-person engagement.
While Facebook continues to be the dominant social media platform, do not be limited to it. Younger generations are starting to move away from it. Explore other platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. Get creative with the way you present yourself.
Focus on staffing
Hire some younger people – people who look like and talk like and have similar interests to those you want to reach. Having younger people on staff will help others to perceive your church as authentic and relevant.
“Influencers” shape the younger generation’s perspective because they’re normal people they can relate to and trust. Letting young, multicultural people see that young people like them are already in your church will help it to resonate with them and make connections. A diverse staff will also bring insight as you continue to build community.
If your advertising or marketing looks unauthentic, it will be an instant turn off. Use messaging that millennials and Gen Zers can identify with and relate to.
Think of the visuals you use. Are they multicultural, or do they portray only one non-dominant ethnic group? Think of your word selection and voice. Do they resonate with younger, multicultural people? Use phrases or terms relevant to millennials and post-millennials.
Now is the time for churches to interact with young adults and youth, to build relationships with them so they want to connect with the church.
Think diverse and global. Focus on specific values. Don’t generalize about young people. Offer ways for people to be involved (virtually or in person). And don’t be afraid to ask for their help as you use the platforms the younger, multicultural generations prefer.
Aileen Jimenez is the manager of Hispanic/Latino leader communications at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, TN, USA. You can reach her at [email protected].