February 26, 2009Leadership, Research

Barna: Tech & the Church Generation Gap

Something to think about over the weekend concerning the generation gap in our churches because of technology. The Barna Group recently published some research on the role tech plays in widening the generation gap.

Technology is fast becoming the latest driving force behind what is often called the "generation gap." While Americans of every age have become quite comfortable with and dependent on technology, a new study by The Barna Group explores how technology is shaping different experiences and expectations among generations.

The research pointed to two contributing factors widening the generation gap.

1) Each new generation adopts and uses new technologies at a greater pace than their predecessors, and

2) there is an "exponential reliance on digital tools among Americans under the age of 25."

And there's not just a gap in the use of technology between generations, but also in perception. Barna Research explains, "Not surprisingly, younger adults are more likely to admit 'gadget lust' than is true of older adults. For instance, among the youngest adult Americans - those ages 18 to 24, a group the Barna Group labels Mosaics - more than one-fifth (22%) said they consider owning the latest technology to be a very high priority in life, compared to only one out of every 11 adults over the age of 25 (9%)."

So our younger folk are placing more value in and rapidly adopting and relying on new tech than our older folk. Why does this matter? Knowing what separates us (in this case the use and perception of tech) can also allow us to strategically work against these cultural barriers by pushing back on related sin issues (like materialism), while maintaining various methods of communication that can connect to different generations.

So this all connects to the culture we create within our local churches. Consider, for example, how our people interact with church tech. The article points out that, "several spiritual elements were classified as emerging among the youngest three generations: listening to church podcasts and visiting their church website (measured for past year, not the past week). For their part, 'Elders' have yet to move beyond limited digital access to spiritual content."

David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group says that the data collected points to a number of conclusions.

1. Even though young people are sometimes called the "Net Generation," every age segment is becoming dependent on the Internet. In fact, because Boomers and Busters represent about two-thirds of the adult population, they are far more numerous users of technology than are adults under the age of 25. For instance, the majority of online purchases are made by those between the age of 30 and 55. And many of the bloggers, music downloaders and users of social networking websites are from the Boomer and Buster cohorts.

2. Still, despite the preponderance of middle-age technology users, the nation's youngest adults (Mosaics) are light-years ahead in their personal integration of these technologies, even blazing beyond the comfort of Busters. While Busters differ dramatically from their predecessors, Mosaics are even further down the path of integrating technologies into their lifestyles. On effect of this is that younger adults do not think of themselves as consumers of content; for better and for worse, they consider themselves to be content creators.

3. All Americans are increasingly dependent on new digital technologies to acquire entertainment, products, content, information and stimulation. However, older adults tend to use technology for information and convenience. Younger adults rely on technology to facilitate their search for meaning and connection. These technologies have begun to rewire the ways in which people - especially the young - meet, express themselves, use content and stay connected.

4. For church leaders, it is notable that a minority of churchgoing Mosaics and Busters are accessing their congregation's podcasts and website. While technology keeps progressing and penetrating every aspect of life, churches have to work hard to keep pace with the way people access and use content, while also instructing churchgoers on the potency of electronic tools and techniques.

5. Since technology is pervasive, many of the age-old questions about human development and human flourishing are taking on new dimension. How does technology help or hinder communication, or for that matter, relationships between the generations? Are social skills better or worse? Are reading and writing skills improving or not? And what does adequate preparation for tomorrow's workforce look like? Educators, parents, youthworkers and other leaders must continually fine-tune their responses to these issues.

(emphasis mine)

There's more helpful information in the article, you can find it at the Barna Group website. Read it, come back and share your thoughts.

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Barna: Tech & the Church Generation Gap