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The Medium is the Message

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Over the past several years I’ve talked a lot about change. The world is changing. Young people are changing. Teens’ responses to our established catechetical methodologies are changing. But, few of our parishes are changing.

There are several major cultural currents converging into a Niagara-sized force. First, we are transitioning generations—from Gen X to Millennials. Secondly, we are experiencing an epistemological transition from modernity to post modernity. Finally, we are in the throes of a communication revolution—shifting from the dominance of a broadcast culture to the ascendancy of digital media.

Young people today are indigenous to each ensuing movement, while those of us in church leadership are cultural foreigners, understanding the resulting movements as a second language. Whether we are as conversant as an Aborigine plopped into the heart of New York City or are progressing to the point of losing our native accent—we must become culturally fluent in order to reach this emerging generation.

In this blog I’d like to briefly explore the transition from a broadcast mentality to a digital culture and its implication on young people and church.

In a broadcast world one sits passively, entertained, and taking in linear fashion an expert’s perspective (think TV). The learning experience is similar. One watches and listens (hopefully to a big, entertaining personality) passively following their sequential presentation. In a Digital Age, young people empowered by search engines are a click away from an ubiquitous stream of information. They have the power to self-navigate, interact with, and participate in what they are learning (blogs, postings, downloading their video creations, etc.).

The Digital age has conditioned teens toward interactivity, connection and participation while learning—hence, the present disconnect with the church’s printed word or broadcast methodologies. Furthermore, teens aren’t searching more information from the church (they can access it easier and more quickly from their computer screen). What they need are authentic relationships to guide them in managing, utilizing and integrating that information into the realities of their daily life.

The deluge of the Information Age has brought about a discerning skepticism in young people, relying on trusted relationships for knowledge, not on institutions or authority. This need has driven young people to seek genuine community—a spiritual niche the church can reclaim if we grow back into our intended identity: “They will know my disciples by their love for one another.” (John 13:35)

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