Speaking Face to Face
In the epistles of Second and Third John, John expresses his preference to see his audience “face to face” rather than continuing his discourse through pen and parchment.
You might say that John preferred a meet-up over a social media or text message exchange.
But these days, millennials prefer texting to talking. This could be an issue.
Millennials face a challenge: our abundant technologies have contributed to a decline in conversation skills and have created a deficit in the accumulation of the kind of emotional and social intelligence that proves significant in forming relationships with other human beings.
At Forbes, A. J. Agrawal writes, “[M]illennials might arguably be one of the overall most intelligent generations to come around. However, that’s not to say they still don’t have a lot to learn, especially when it comes to face-to-face communication.” Agrawal continues, “As the generation that grew up with communication becoming more efficient via digital, their biggest strength could also be a critical weakness.”
Agrawal lists several effects that digital communication has had on millennials. Millennials are accustomed to the ability to edit what one is trying to say before saying it, and they sometimes lack nuance concerning the nature of online connections, since an online friend or follower lacks equivalency with in-person relationships. The language of the digital world can also be problematic for how a relationship is understood: online engagement is not the same as conversation, nor is building a network the same as establishing friendships.
What can the church do?
The church can be the place of encounter, where we see and are seen.
The church can be a place of listening, where we hear and are heard.
The church can be a place of companioning and friendship, where one soul joins together with another on the journey of life.
There is something revelatory in the spoken word, a way of encountering one another though pace, inflection, and even pronunciation, not to mention nonverbal cues and body language, both subtle and overt, that can help another person perceive the full range of meaning, conveying seriousness to playfulness, emotional warmth to frigidity. It is not only the words we speak, but the face to face encounter that brings us into full communion with another human being.
More often than not the church is a place where we gather, sing, sit, soak, and are sent. In our gatherings for worship, our times of greeting are often limited to the passing of the peace or cordial hellos. But the church must also be the place of conversation, of connection, and of learning how to care.
In Acts 11, we are told that Barnabas was sent from the church in Jerusalem to the believers at Antioch, and “when he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion.” We are further told that Barnabas, “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Because of his presence, “a great many people were brought to the Lord.”
How can you foster this kind of connection? How can you get conversations started in your context? I’m willing to bet you have some creative ideas.
Barnabas came and joined a group of people among whom God was already at work. He encouraged them, face to face, by giving witness to the grace of God abounding. Millennials need us to help equip them in the art of conversation and connection.
But they also need us to help them to see how they can be like Barnabas, those who bless others by venturing forth from their Jerusalem and connecting with others face to face.
This kind of task is not only for the church but for the world as we send forth people of all generations to connect, to listen, to love, and share the gospel of and about Christ. An intensified focus on face-to-face connection may begin in your ministry to millennials, but a sustained effort will surely strengthen the entire body of Christ.
After all, to get this started, people of older generations will need to approach millennials and talk to them, not just about them.