Christianity on the digital frontier: Part V
Are 21st Century Christians around the world up to the challenge of witnessing to the 21st Century? Are the ways of “doing” church meeting the needs of those who now turn to the internet for everything? Perhaps answers lie within the digital realm itself.
Insights editor Adrian Drayton attended the eFormation Conference in Washington DC this year. To find out how and what Christianity can be online.
In the FINAL part of a special FIVE-part series, “Google or God?” is a question we need to have an answer to.
(Click here to read Part III: Forming faith — digitally or Part IV: Big changes)
Church is not using online information
Ask Google a question about God, the church, or Jesus Christ and chances are that you’ll get some startling answers. The Rev. Jake Dell has been investigating and analysing the results of such Google searches. He is the Manager of Digital Marketing for the Episcopal Church (New York diocese), and has a wealth of industry experience in information technology, database marketing, fundraising, marketing and digital media.
Rev. Dell’s session during the eFormation conference, “Google or God”, revealed some fascinating information about the shear breadth of information that Google collects on a daily basis. And this begs the question, “If Google is collecting detailed information about our habits, why aren’t we as a Church capitalising on this information?”
In an age where the current generation of millenials and the recently coined “nones” — those who are characterised as being spiritual but having no Church affiliation — are searching for answers to life’s questions online, the Church isn’t using the tools available to effectively respond to them.
“The numbers from the recent Pew Research indicate we have hit the iceberg and we are taking on water,” explained Dell. “The number of people not going to church has really spiked.
“There are now perhaps even four generations who are not religiously affiliated. So, where do we start?
“I saw these figures a few years ago while at a conference and I got frustrated as much by the numbers as by the reaction of people in the room. People were like ‘Oh that’s interesting; I’ll go back to my job’ [But] I wanted to do something about it.”
Responding well to Google searchers
Did you know Google has a name for our habitual use of it as a search tool? It’s called a “micro-moment”. And Google has identified four kinds of micro-moments. The “I-want-to-know” moments — the kind you use to settle a debate. Then there is the “I-want-to-go” moments, such as when you want to know where a new movie is showing?” There also are “I-want-to-do” and “I-want-to-buy” moments.
“These micro moments allow us, for the first time, to capitalise on what people are looking for,” explained Dell. “It is amazing and scary how much Google knows about us through these micro-moments.
“Interestingly when people Google ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ on a Sunday morning, they rarely find a church.
“[But] just because people aren’t going to church necessarily, does that mean they have stopped asking the big questions of life? Have they stopped asking about their meaning and purpose? Have they stopped feeling pain and suffering? Have they stopped feeling loneliness? This generation has all the same questions that previous generations did.
“The difference is they are not conditioned to go [to] a person wearing a clerical outfit to get those questions answered. They are not conditioned to walk into a local church and hear a sermon that might help them. They are not conditioned to browse the religious section of a book store and read a book on the topic. What they are conditioned to do is go to Google.”
This is where marketing comes into play and where effective marketing can become a form of evangelism. By meeting the needs of the primary age group that is asking pertinent questions, mainline churches will be more equipped to operate effectively in the online environment. You can have a great looking website, but if Google isn’t searching for it, chances are people won’t find it.
Australia: the digital nation
Technology is changing faster than ever and how we consume media, equally so. While the growth of new technologies has had a fragmentation effect on media consumption, it’s also had a cumulative effect. Today, the average Australian spends around 10 hours per day on electronic media (although total hours spent on technology are not the same as total time chronologically, due to the way we consume media across devices).
McCrindle surveyed Australians on the number of hours they spend each day viewing, browsing, interacting, engaging, playing, and listening to electronic media channels. The results are not only astounding, but markedly similar across the generations.
Young Australians are not the only ones spending an extended period of their day on electronic media. In fact, Australia’s “Builder” generation (those aged 68 and older) are spending more time on electronic media than the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers — almost as much as Gen Y!
Since the first iPad hit the market in 2010, Australians have grown to love tablets and use them, on average, for almost half an hour every day. Tablets are not just being used by younger generations, either – the Baby Boomers and Builders have also taken a strong liking to the user-friendly interfaces
and the multi-function capacities of such technologies.
Australians also love digital media and devote more than half of their waking hours to interacting with digital media channels. While different generations engage with different mediums — such as Gen Ys preferring the use of smartphones and tablet usage, over TV consumption — one thing is clearly evident: Australia is a digital media nation.
For more information about Australia’s love for all things digital, head to McCrindle Research. We recommend the following two McCrindle Research articles:
• Australia: The Digital Media Nation
• A Demographic snapshot of Christianity and Church attenders in Australia
Read the full digital issue of Insights August/September issue
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Why the Uniting Church Supports the School Strike for ClimateWed, 6th Oct 2021