Communicating with your Millennial

Starting with this edition, WorshipSongsOnline is pleased to partner with guest bloggers to expand our conversation and present new ideas on sacred music and ministry.  In that spirit, we welcome Paul Thompson of House of EI Music.

Do you ever find yourself in a group of millennials and not know what anyone is talking about? Are you ever frustrated by the lack of response from your younger siblings in Christ when you forward them a brilliant story and not a single one types “Amen” and sends it back? Or how about when your instrumentalists show up unprepared after you spent hours faxing them their music? You even gave them your beeper number. They could’ve called any time… you even bought extra minutes just in case.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you are not alone. The world of communication has shifted quickly and churches, who are usually behind on most technological advancements, have found themselves caught in a tailspin. Unlike a foreign language where you can just yell louder and be understood, Millennials are using pictures and symbols to talk, and no matter how much louder they #yell, (#YELL) you never seem to know what they’re saying.

That’s why I’m here. Born before social media was around, but young enough to have gotten on board, I can help you translate your analogue, verbal communication to their digital language and the other way around. Put down your soup cans and Radio Shack walkie talkies, these are some of the new communication devices and symbols to help you understand and talk with the Millennial in your life.

Phone: This device, while capable of relaying vocal communication, should be used mainly for texting. If you’re driving or having a life threatening event, you may use the voice function but 99% of the time, your millennial will prefer a text. Whatever you do, DO NOT LEAVE A VOICEMAIL. Send a voice memo via text if you must but voicemails are tedious and often go ignored for weeks at a time. If your millennial doesn’t pick up, send a text.

While texting, you may come across little pictures. These pictures are called Emojis.

Emoji: This is a hipster throwback to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Emojis are the smiley faces, thumbs up, head exploding pictures that often accompany a text message or are the sole content. Each emoji has a specific meaning, so if you are unsure of what that meaning is, ask… don’t use it. I could write an entire article on emojis and what they mean, but for now, just know that the smiling swirl of brown is not chocolate ice cream.

Social Media: Any platform used to disperse personal information through statuses, pictures, and/or videos. Choose your social media communication wisely. Not all ages connect the same way.

Facebook: pictures, videos, status… this is dropping in popularity with millennials due to an abundance of political content and enraged family members arguing about sports teams. Making a “Choir Page” is a good idea and is often a fast way to get information to your group while waiting for the IT person at your church (let’s be honest… it’s Sister Betsy and MS Paint) to update the website.

Instagram: Pictures, statuses, videos. This website, right now, is the most popular with millennials. It specializes in photo filters and is a popular place to see the work of other photographers, authors, travelers, and artists. Because of all the photo filters, this is the best choice to organize church event photos. Chances are, your millennial will even know how to remove your wrinkles.

Snapchat: This is like text messaging only with photos that you can adorn with cartoon elements and captions, but the messages disappear after a set amount of time. This app would not be ideal to communicate with, but it is a fun way to make some surface level connections through funny pictures.

While wading around in the morass of social media sludge, you may encounter some shapes, phrases, and pictures you don’t understand. Misunderstanding these symbols may lead you to judge your millennial too harshly or incorrectly. You may also be missing a great organizational or communication tool that could aid your ministry. Here are a few items you need to know about.

Hashtag (#): Remeber those filing cabinets you had in your basement growing up? Remember all the folders labeled “vacation 1973,” “taxes 1987,” and “important papers for when I’m dead”? A hashtag is like those folders, only for digital content. Whenever you post a picture online or make a brilliant statement, you can put your hashtag #Imageniusmusicdirector and it will add that picture or content to a digital file labeled “I’m a genius music director.” If you click on that hashtag, you will see all the content labeled with that hashtag. This means that anybody with that hashtag can label content and put it in that file. Hashtags can be really useful on church functions where there are lots of people taking photos of the event. If you have a unified hashtag (make this unique so the rest of the world won’t accidentally use it) then everyone can put their pictures into your digital file folder.

Side note about hashtags: on Facebook, mostly, some people use hashtags as a parenthetical statement. While the use of the hashtag still groups a statement or picture into a digital file, the person using a hashtag in this way is really just trying to make a clarifying, parenthetical statement. For instance: “Didn’t have time to clean the high chair after dinner so I’m letting the dogs do it for me.” #parentingwin #dogsarethebest #dogsmouthsarecleanerthanhumansright? In this case, the hashtag is not being used as an organizational tool, but a humorous side statement.

Swipe right/left: “If it’s a bad idea, swipe left!” This statement comes from dating apps where you decide if you like a potential date by swiping their profile picture right, or left if you want to reject them. Now, it’s used as a way to denote a good idea (arrive early at choir rehearsal? Swipe right) or a bad idea (nachos with extra jalapeños? Swipe left)

Meme: Memes are pictures, usually with accompanying words written above and below the graphic. Each picture provides context for the the statements written on them. You can’t always take the phrases at face value: you have to know the context provided by the picture. Take “Malicious Mallard” meme: this is a picture of a duck that gives bad advice that sounds like good advice. Whatever is written on a Malicious Mallard meme will sound intelligent but will ultimately be bad advice: “To dry your pet quickly, try the microwave.” The picture of Malicious Mallard lets you know that this statement is ultimately a bad idea, but stated in the positive for humorous effect. Next time you have to correct an issue with your choir or church group, ask your millennial to make a meme for you so you can make your point without having to be too harsh about it.

Hopefully, this brief overview helps you navigate the world of communication with your millennial. In no time, you will be fluent in Millennial and holding conversations with the best of them. In the meantime, if you have any questions, HMU on my Facebook page (Paul Thompson), or my Instagram account (House of El Music), or if you want to snap chat, I’m ptsuperman6251. You could also look me up on YouTube. I’m “ptsuperman” or “House of El Music” but please click “like” and subscribe… or, you could ask your millennial and I’m sure they’ll happily answer all of your questions.


Paul Thompson is the owner of House of El Music where he writes, arranges, and orchestrates music for churches, television, and movies. He also speaks for clinics and conferences about Millennial, Gen X, and Boomer inter-generational relations in the church. When not working, he enjoys eating food, traveling, and playing with his pet beagle, CK.

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