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Here's how to bring millennials and Gen Z back to church: Produce more media content to reach them

Here's how to bring millennials and Gen Z back to church: Produce more media content to reach them

Photo: Unsplash/Joshua Hanson | Photo: Unsplash/Joshua Hanson

Recent research has shown a growing decline in church attendance and religious affiliation among millennials and Generation Z in the United States.  For many church leaders, this decline is troubling, and some are not sure how or what to do to bring young adults back to sitting in the pews.

If churches want to bring young Americans back to houses of worship, religious leaders will need to take the message outside of the four walls of a traditional church and go where millennials and Generation Z live: online and on social media.

Prior generational leaders like Pat Robertson and the late Billy Graham understood the power and influence of the media which is why Robertson founded “The Christian Broadcast Network,” and Rev. Graham aired his sermons on radio and television.

However, unlike past generations, young Americans are exposed to media messages constantly that offer them various worldviews and opinions on morality. They no longer need to attend a physical church to hear about spirituality anymore either. They can simply download a podcast or watch a debate about current topics on YouTube. 

For this age group, it is much more convenient and natural to watch a video online than attend a church. This is why the church needs to do more to reach this age group online and through other media. However, if you want your content to be taken seriously by Generation Z, you better bring your A-game.

There is an endless digital sea of videos you can stream on YouTube or watch on Netflix. If you want your videos to stand out, you need to make it not only informative and thought-provoking but entertaining as well. When you have a generation that has grown up to waking up in the morning to their iPhones and spending all day with their device until they fall asleep with the phone at night in their bed, you must produce quality content that stands out from all the noise. They are smart and can spot poor quality and badly produced cheap content.

This is not to say there isn’t quality Christian content in the media now including Christian music, some films and YouTube videos from popular creators like John Crist; we just need more Christian content that is available for young adults on YouTube, Netflix, and social media. 

Churches should consider creating a media fund to help financially support those within their membership and in their local communities that have the skills and talent to produce quality, informative and entertaining media content. Or, partner with those that have the resources to produce this content.

Millennials and Generation Z are not going to stop using the web and social media. The more exposed to Christian messages they are in their news feeds the better. If you reach them where they are and how they consume content, some of them might just find their closest Uber one Sunday morning to attend a worship service. The backdrop of an old church building or a contemporary one with lights and fog would make a great selfie for Instagram.

The Box Office Success of the Pro-Life Film 'Unplanned' Surprises No One But Hollywood

The Christian produced pro-life movie “Unplanned” is proving to be a surprise box office hit according to reports from Yahoo. This is only a surprise to those that live and work in Hollywood because if you live outside the Hollywood bubble, this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. Unlike many in the film industry, your average American does not hold a far left position on abortion.

The movie has made more than $8.6 million at the box office since its March 29 release which is good enough for fourth place at the box office this past weekend according to Box Office Mojo. The only movies ahead of it are big budgeted blockbusters like “Dumbo,” “Us,” and “Captain Marvel.”

For the film to be fourth to big Disney/Marvel movies is very impressive considering the movie had a much smaller production budget and less promotion due to no TV networks agreeing to air ads for the film except Fox News Channel due to its pro-life message.

It probably also helped that the vice president of the United States Tweeted his support of the film. Currently, the movie is in over 1,500 theaters.

The odds were not in the movie’s favor since the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) attributed an “R” rating to the film so that teens 17 and under could not watch the movie. In some states, you can receive an abortion without your parents’ permission if you’re 15, but you can’t watch a film about abortion unless you have your legal guardians permission. The Twitter account of the film was also briefly suspended which hurt marketing efforts as well.

The movie has received harsh negative reviews from Hollywood which isn’t surprising and was very predictable.

I’m glad this film was made. It’s exactly the type of film Christians and conservatives need to produce. If conservatives want to win the culture war, the battlefield isn’t the halls of Congress. This political and moral battle must be won on the movie, TV and smartphone screens across the country.

Podcasts Are the New Pulpit

According to statistics from Apple, there are over 500,000 active podcast shows on the Apple Podcasts app/iTunes. That is a lot of content providing many different world views that could influence the listening audience.

If you are new to podcasts or have never downloaded an episode, podcasts are like an unlimited audio buffet of choice. No matter what you’re into: sports, travel, news, pop culture, politics, dating, cars, Star Wars, the odds are there are multiple podcasts on your favorite topics you can listen to and enjoy.

The good news about this technology (in addition to the choice and portability of being able to listen on your phone) is the church has not missed the ball and isn’t having to play catch up on this new audio medium.

If you open the Apple Podcasts app or another popular podcast app, you’ll see an entire section of religious podcasts available for listeners to download from their favorite pastors or Christian teachers.  

Some of the top downloaded religious shows come from names you’d recognize like Joel Osteen, Steven Furtick, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Dr. Charles Stanley, and Joyce Meyer. However, the good news is because producing a podcast and distributing one is so cheap local pastors that aren’t nationally known can share the gospel both locally and globally.

In the past, purchasing airtime on television or the radio was too expensive for many ministries to afford. Now, thanks to the ability to post a sermon online for around $10 per month depending on the podcast host used, pastors that could never spread the gospel message before are able to find new listeners.

Podcasts are a great tool the church can use to reach others for Christ including younger Americans that bypass traditional media like radio and TV. Generation Z and millennials are embracing podcasts as a form of entertainment and as a source for news and information.

With thousands of new podcast shows appearing online every month, it’s important Christianity has a strong voice in this new medium. People are going to hear multiple worldviews on shows. It’s good and eternally essential the gospel message is a part of the downloadable conversation.  

Hallelujah! Netflix Plans to Produce Faith Based and Family Programming

Netflix has found religion. For many religious readers that may come as a shock considering the world’s largest streaming video on-demand service brought the world Frank Underwood and "Orange is the New Black."

Fox News reported that Netflix is planning to launch a slate of original faith and family-friendly programming that will be exclusive on the video service.

Netflix is spending $8 billion per year on programming according to reports so the company has the money to produce some high quality faith and family programming. No Christian filmmaker can come close to matching the resources of Netflix.  

I think Netflix producing original faith-based programming is a smart business move. There are millions of not only Americans but families around the world that would like to subscribe to the streaming service but won’t due to a lack of family-friendly program offerings. This is a business decision that Christians should support.

With the almost countless options viewers have for TV entertainment, producing quality shows is more important than ever. Having Christian shows on Netflix will take Christian entertainment to a new level and will possibly reach many viewers that otherwise would never watch Christian movies and shows because most non-Christians are not going to subscribe to a Christian video service. However, they will watch Netflix.

If Christians want to reach millennials and other nonbelievers with the gospel, there is no better way than through the media and no bigger service than Netflix to use to do it.  

Originally posted at chadwhittle.com

Chad Whittle holds a doctoral degree in mass communication. Read his daily column at ChadWhittle.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Subscribe to “A Whittle Bit of Commentary" on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, and Google Play.

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