Monday, March 2, 2015

Communicating With the Next Generation

Learning to communicate with the next generation is a challenge for those of us who are over 40. Is it better to tweet than to email? Is it better to use a text than a tweet? Is a podcast better than a blog? Does an effective power point communicate better than a video? When we have a face to face meeting, do we meet at Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts? Regardless of how we communicate, we must be conscious of avoiding the “I versus you” syndrome in our communication.

I recall participating in a discussion group at a church where we were studying a passage of Scripture that had some strong words that are sometimes difficult to apply to our lives. The leader of the group shared stories of his own journey of faith, which were very moving. However, as the discussion wore on, I noticed that most of his comments began with statements like, “I did this and you need to do it too,” “I stopped this behavior, and you need to stop this behavior too,” and “You need to change the way you think, feel, and act and become like me because I have overcome these problems.” The leader, perhaps unintentionally, seemed to imply that he had all the answers and had everything about this particular issue ļ¬gured out. After a while, his moving stories started to sound more like arrogance than empathy.

It also became clear that the leader assumed the people in the discussion group could not live right until they changed their behavior to be more like his. While his story was powerful, several of us in the group thought of half a dozen other ways people might apply that Scripture to life and produce positive change. Not everyone would take the exact same journey that this well meaning fellow had taken. By the end of the evening, we found it difficult to get past the constant “I versus you” statements.
When communicating with young people, it is important to share the stories of our own spiritual journey, but we must avoid the I versus you style of sharing. That type of sharing sounds arrogant and condescending to the next generation. We must learn to use "we and us" statements instead of "I and you" statements.
Using we and us statements helps everyone feel as if the person communicating is part of the group instead of above the group. This does not mean that we can not talk about difficult issues; it just means that we should not create an “I versus you” environment in the process. Because young people will perceive this type of environment as being judgmental, they are unlikely to want to engage in a second dose of hearing how great Christians think we are. Retraining ourselves to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements can be quite a challenge.
The following might be an example of a less-effective statement:
“If you continue in your addiction, you will never have a happy life. I trusted Christ, and it helped me overcome my addiction. I have been happier ever since. If you trust Christ, He will help you overcome your addiction, and you will be happier too.”
Though every word of the preceding statement may be technically accurate, it sets the speaker up as "better" than the "hearer" and to many people that is arrogant, and therefore, a less effective style of communication.
An example of a more-effective statement might be the following:
“Many of us have struggled with various addictions in our lives. We know what it is like to overcome such addictions, and we know what it is like to give in to those addictions. But as we have learned to turn from our sin and trust in Christ, we have found new strength to overcome our addictions. Let us encourage one another in our struggles and use the power of our faith in Christ to help one another overcome the addictions all of us battle.”
That type of statement expresses the need to turn away from negative behavior but does not put the speaker above the group. To the contrary, it puts the speaker and the listener on common ground. The next generation responds much better to this type of inclusive statement than to one with an I versus you perspective.
Whether we are posting a message on Facebook, sending a tweet, text or email, making a podcast, posting a Vine or Snapchat or writing a blog, we must retrain ourselves to use we and us statements instead of I and you statements. Though it may be a challenge for those of us over 40, it is a challenge worth engaging in if we hope to communicate well with the next generation.

Adapted from Dr. Dorsett’s book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church, published by CrossBooks, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources.


  1. Thanks, Terry. Your post speaks to Christian poets, writers, and other communicators for Christ, who minister to people of all ages, so I'll highlight this on the Christian Poets & Writers blog God bless.

    1. Thanks Mary Harwell Sayler. I was chatting with someone else on another page and they said the same thing, that it was not just the next generation that needed this style of communication. Thanks for highlighting it.