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Cultural trends you may have missed

By Gavin Richardson

You may have noticed the recent rise of videos and images in communications. However, you might have missed some larger cultural trends.

1. The rise of the media device.

Tablet and smartphone devices continue to become more the norm than the exception. In 2013, more than a third of all American adults (18 and older) owned a tablet device with those numbers growing closer to one-half in the 34-44 age demographic. More than 60 percent of Americans use smartphones, with more than half the population using their phones for texting, apps, music, email and Internet use. Growing fast is the use of video calls with FaceTime, Skype and Google+.

How can you use media devices to help communications? Consider creating a mobile-responsive website. Look into developing an app that brings content from the church to media devices. Perhaps make your welcoming packet or community resource directory into an eBook format to download or view over the Web.

2. Growth of online learning.

Technology within today’s traditional classroom grows each year. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are becoming more familiar. Because people connect so much online, they often find it easier to develop relationships with others online than they might in a physical classroom environment.

In 2014, the church must look seriously at providing online learning environments. Online courses are not as hard to develop as you think, and they enable guests to engage with your church. Check out United Methodist Communications' online training resources.

3. Security and anonymity.

Perhaps you heard of a national security agency that admitted to collecting information about everyday people. As a result, people realized that everything on the Web is findable and forever. Whatever the motivation, security and anonymity are a big deal. More than a quarter of all online users have had some aspect of their lives compromised. In 2013, almost 90 percent of online users took measures to cover up their identity or activities. More than half of these users took steps to hide activity from specific organizations. Almost half of teenage app users have turned off location tracking on their devices because of privacy concerns.

How can the church respond to security threats? Churches can help educate people and teach practical life lessons such as online privacy. Teenagers especially need someone to help them navigate the rapid changes in online security and privacy. Learn more ministry ideas for your church's IT superheroes.

4. Libraries: the new old space.

In 2013, more than 90 percent of Americans expressed the importance of their libraries. As the world becomes more digital, libraries increasingly are positioning themselves as content curators and providers of community services. Younger adults are increasingly using the library for it's print, Web and technology resources. More than 67 percent of young adults under age 30 visited the library last year (compared to 62 percent for those over 30). Many find their way to the library to study, read or stream media.

Should your church create a library? It is possible if you have the resources. However, most churches lack the volunteers, the space or the money to host a library or a computer lab. Consider collaborating with your neighborhood library. It already has the infrastructure. Donate computers and printers to augment their supply. Offer to start programs that build skills, help with homework, tutor in reading and prepare people for jobs.

These emerging trends may not be prevalent in your ministry, but perhaps they are visible in your community. How will your church respond and serve proactively? Let us know in the comment section below or share stories of how you see churches engaged in these trends.