The Gospel According to Emojis

Hey, church leader person, you know how we keep reading that millennials are “digital natives” that we like to always be connected with technology, that to connect to us that you need to get into all that stuff too? More and more I’m reading that when it comes to churches, that millennials aren’t interested in all that flashy stuff and even that millennials are turning to traditional expressions of worship, even ancient church practices. And while I get that many of us are annoyed by churches that try too hard,  I feel like instead of looking for how all of these things connect, we’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. Because millennials might not want church to try to be “cool” we should stop worrying about all the digital/technology/social media stuff and go back to candles and hymnals (I happen to like all of those by the way).

Sure we may want to engage with traditional church practices, a good taize service every now and again, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to give up our smart phones (we probably won’t even turn them off during church).  As church leader people, we’re not just trying to engage millennials during the finite times that they’re gathered for church-related stuff, but to engage them holistically in the varied aspects of their life.

In this article, “Hunting Millennials: Emojis in Mobile Marketing” Ben Frederick talks about how companies are now using emojis to market to millennials. It’s the new language that we speak. I’ll admit that there’s something about using emojis in conversation that adds an element of wit and charm that you can’t get with words. But what the marketing world is showing us is that even though they’re pushing the same product, if they can speak clearly to their audience (millennials) they can continue to market to them.

Which makes me wonder what the gospel would look like in emojis. Would this fall into the category of “trying too hard”? Or would this help us connect to people in a new way? Would the gospel in emojis bring the gospel into new places in people’s lives? Would it be more shareable digitally? If you had a Jesus emoji, would he come up in (text) conversation more?

While the gospel in emojis seems a bit out there, what it highlights is our need to engage in the language of the culture. When you preach on a Sunday morning, or give a message to a group of kids, or write a newsletter, isn’t our goal that many people would hear it and that it would impact multiple parts of their lives? Don’t we especially want that message to reach those who are not yet a part of the church (of which millennials are a big part)? The message might not change, but if you are able to communicate it in ways that reach more people, that is more shareable, that is more easily translated, who could you reach?

At the church I lead, thrive, we realized early on that we had a lot of people that were interested in what we were doing, in our message, that were a long way off from showing up out of the blue on a Sunday morning. But we knew that we had a chance to share our messages with them, to engage them, online. We’ve started posting quotes from our messages, in easily readable, digestible snippets so that people who follow us can get a sense of what we’re talking about on Sunday mornings, but so they can also hear the good news. The good news blended into their twitter feed, right there in the middle of all the other random people they follow. There we still have a voice. Many churches do a far better job of this, of reaching people online (video sermons, online services, etc.), but we keep doing it, we look for new ways of doing it, because maybe this is how we share the good news and because that is the work of the church. So how can you, church leader person, share your message in the language of the culture? Who do you have around you that can help you speak the language of the culture? (hint: millennials) In what ways can you use technology and social media to infuse people’s lives with the gospel? How does looking at technology, social media and even emojis as opportunities for the incarnation of Christ change the ways we use them?

Keep up the good work!