When I was in college, I spent the summer with my sister and her family in New York City. It was an amazing experience, as we lived right across the street from Central Park, and just a couple of blocks from the American Museum of Natural History, where I worked. I loved being in the middle of the action; it was a cool summer, full of unique and memorable experiences.
One sticks out, though it wasn’t all that exciting. It was the day I was walking to work and I happened by Peter Jennings, who was also heading to work. Maybe I remember it because he was the only “celebrity” I saw that summer. Or maybe it was memorable because that was the day when the work Jennings did — being the nightly news anchor — made him a well-known personality. Today, if my kids walked by David Muir (Peter Jennings’ current successor), they wouldn’t have a clue who he is. I’m guessing most people under 30 wouldn’t.
This week, my dad had some surgery, so I went to see him and my mom. One evening, while we were with my dad in his hospital room, my mom turned on the TV to watch the evening news. We were in St Louis, so 5:30 is the time when the nightly news comes on. And so, the TV came on, because my mom likes the news. I’m pretty sure she knows who David Muir is.
In fact, my 84-year-old mother plans her evening around the evening news. My 21-year-old daughter, however, does not. In fact, she likely has not, and probably never will, watch the evening news. How my child gets news is very different than how my mother gets news. Even so, they both have a need to know what’s going on. So, as the major networks search for ways to continue to connect to people like my mom, they also must search for new ways to connect to people like my daughter. (Good luck with that.)
But let’s expand the idea out even further. ABC, CBS, and NBC aren’t the only outlets struggling to remain relevant in the news business. Every newspaper and news magazine in America is facing the challenge of digital media, which is completely free of having to broadcast at a certain time or having to actually print the news once a day.
So, why do I bring all of this up? Not because I care that much how people get their news — but because I care how people approach change. Because, for all the lessons the news-delivery business can teach us, it sure can teach us about change.
For many, change is difficult. This is especially true for my mom. There is no wifi at her apartment. She has no smart phone. She talks about how “they don’t make things like they used to.”
My daughter, meanwhile, can’t imagine life without the internet. She will never not have a smart phone. She has very little appreciation of how they used to make things.
Who is right? My mom? My daughter? Or neither one?
Maybe the question isn’t about who is right, but about learning the lessons of communication in a world that is changing — whether we like it, or not. Just as both my mom and daughter want to get the news, but access it different ways, so also we who follow Jesus have to recognize that we have the news — and not just any news, but the Good News; the freedom-giving, hope-filling, life-changing transformation of God in Jesus Christ. And what matters more than how we get it to people, is that we do.
For the Church to be serious about loving people like my mom, we have to value the ways that they are used to hearing the Good News. But if the Church is going to be serious about loving people like my daughter, then we also have to value the ways she is most likely to hear the Good News. In fact, I’ll go a step further: We must never stop valuing and honoring those who already know the Good News, but we must choose ways for those who don’t know it — or who are just learning it — to hear it. We have got to stop worrying less about how we share the Good News, and spend more time considering actually sharing it in ways that clearly and consistently point people to Jesus.
Because here’s the thing: eventually, the Evening News will cease to exist as we know it. Or, at the very least, it will only reach a handful of folks. (In fact, that is already true: less than 10% of Americans currently watch any of the 3 major networks’ nightly news programs.) At the same time, print publications are falling by the wayside. There is no one in the news business who has any doubt that the news-delivery business is changing, and will continue to change. What won’t change, of course, is that there is news to deliver.
The Church must pay attention this reality. We have the Good News. That does not change; never has, never will. But what does change — and is changing, whether we like it or not — is how that news is delivered, and received. We who care about Jesus, and his mission, cannot miss this lesson.
In my next post, I’ll say more about this. Stay tuned….