Print or online? Promoting church to youth

Jeremy Halcrow

At the Create conference, myself and Russell Powell from Anglican Media Sydney sought to encourage local church leaders to think more strategically about the way they use the media.

Building a good relationship with your local newspaper is the easiest place to start. We recommend this as a first step for those churches starting out with a communications strategy.

However some churches will be ready to take the next step.

Community newspapers are mostly read by those already connected to the community or those who want to be " isolated young mums or seniors. But what if your church wants to contact other groups?

Community newspaper are not always going to be the best option if you want to speak directly to young people. So are there other methods that can be explored?

Protestant Christians should appreciate the importance of new communications technology. After all, it was Guttenberg's invention of the printing press that allowed the Reformation to take place as Protestant Bibles and evangelistic tracts were reproduced spreading like wildfire throughout Europe.

Today we are on the brink of another dramatic shift " from the TV age to the internet age.

The current two generations of Australians " the boomers and Gen X - have become the world's top TV addicts.

Since 1956 when TV was introduced in Australia, newspaper circulations have plummeted by 300,000 copies per day, despite the population doubling in size.

This is by far the biggest decline in any nation in the world. In fact, in northern Europe, newspaper circulations have continued to rise (all be it slowly).

On top of all this, over the next 5 years the old analogue TV will be phased out and replaced by digital TV.

Even back 15 years ago when I was studying at uni, media experts were predicting that convergence between TV and internet was inevitable. Now with the advent of digital TV, that much heralded future is upon us.

So what does this mean for those in ministry?

Understanding changes in communications technology is important for understanding social change. Or to put it another way - the new generations choice of media will impact the way you do ministry.
In fact I think the end of the TV age should be welcomed by Christians. It certainly hasn't been a great period in church growth!

The expense of Mass media broadcasting means that it is a very difficult medium for churches to utilise.

However the next generation devices like TiVo and Apple TV allow you to view video that resides on the Internet.

Stop and consider the significance of this change for a moment.

We at Anglican Media already have our own YouTube channel. Many churches and other Christian organizations also use YouTube. Imagine adding Christian documentaries, or even the best Bible talks to your regular TV viewing habits.

Strategically Anglican Media has been placing a significant proportion of its media evangelism resources into new media.

Furthermore the canning of statutory time three years ago, for religious broadcasting on commercial TV means that opportunities for evangelism through the mass media are not what they were twenty years ago at the peak of the TV age.

But more importantly the audiences just aren't there any more.

In about 2003, as they analysed the data from the previous year, TV network executive began to be spooked by the sudden fall in the numbers of under 40s watching TV. They have tried to fight back somewhat since then. However viewing levels among 16 to 24 year olds is down about 35% since the early 1990s.

The youth audience today

The youth audience is "The holy grail' for newspaper and TV moguls because they don't consume media like previous generations demographics.

Rupert Murduch has labelled them ‘digital natives’, because today’s youth can consume more media in a matter of minutes, than their 60’s counterparts could get in a month.
I'll give you one snapshot of the difference. In the year I was born " 1972 " more than half of the young worker market - the 18-29-year-olds - read a paper each day. Today, the readership amongst this age group has plunged to one third.

Of course the teenage media market is another world again.

According to Neilsen research Australian teenagers are clocking up an average of 15 hours per week online. That's more than 2 hours per day. But remember that's an average. To realise how high it must be for some individuals " its important to note that not all households can connect to high-speed broadband.

As you guys would be aware the brave new world is the portable media devices that permanantly attached to teenager's jean pockets, or school bags.

According to Morgan research, newspaper readership amongst 14-24 year olds declined by 30 per cent in a decade [1991-2002]. Only 1 in 5 teens now read a newspaper during a given week.
I think many church leaders assume that this age group simply ‘grow into’ reading habits as they get older and settle down.

But is there really any guarantee?

Are newspapers dead?

You may have heard a number of the key media players talk about the death of newspaper.

Rupert Murdoch touched on this in his Boyer Lecture last week.

However this has more to do with the collapse of the advertising model for metropolitan newspapers " especially the success of ebay in the classifieds market and "real-estate.com' in the property market.
Will this impact community newspapers?

To some degree.

But there will always be a place for locals talking to their local community. And this includes the advertising by local businesses.

The first thing to remember is that print, TV and internet are just content delivery systems.

And each do have their own strengths and weaknesses.

For newspapers, and print in general " including books, their strength is their ability to deliver in-depth content effectively.

In this sense, print and online actually complement each other rather than compete, because they both play different roles.

If you think about any major news story over recent years " from the Bali bombing to the latest sporting triumph, people go straight to the website to get updated information. But then they bought huge amounts of newspapers the following day to actually get all the details.

But depth isn't newspapers real competitive advantage.

Their strength compared to the internet is also in connecting with the local or geographic community as compared to the internet which builds on a network or non-geographic community.

As a result local newspapers are one of the strongest segments of the industry.

Readership rates are high.

This means that the people who read local newspapers tend to read right through the publication and then pass on information they have read to friends and neighbours. Young people are part of this grapevine.

This is why your local newspaper editor still needs to become your pastor's next best friend.