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publications are a pain to carry and search, easy to misplace, and hard to share, and the information in them is outdated the moment it appears.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.