What Nielson’s The Digital American Family Study Means for our Church Future

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The Nielsen Company is out with a new report profiling the changing American family.  Its findings are a good companion for the US Census 2010 data trickling out now for use by the Search Committee in preparing a parish profile.  While generalized across the Nielsen sample, it nonetheless provides a big picture context for the changes we all see around us.

You can download The New Digital American Family report yourself directly from Nielsen. Here are some quick facts from the study that provide important implications for our parish future:

  • Time Shifting TV Watching Increases Family Viewing Together. The higher family income the less TV is watched but families tend to spend more time watching with kids because of DVRs and services like Netflix and Comcast on Demand than low income households.
  • Hispanic Families use more Mobile Services for Family Connection. They are more likely than the average household to have cell phones with Internet (55%) and video (40%) capabilities and text more than any other ethnic group sending 943 texts per month.
  • African-American Watch more TV and use More Mobile Minutes. They own more TVs per household and spend almost 40% more time watching TV, especially premium cable channels, than the U.S. average. African Americans use more mobile voice minutes per month—1,261—than any other group.
  • Asian-Americans have big appetite for online media, logging 80 hours on the Internet and viewing 3,600 web pages, 3.5 times more than any other ethnic group.
  • Marriage is declining. In 1960, 72 percent of the adult population was married. By 2008, that number plummeted to 52 percent. The college educated have the highest marriage rates; those with a high school education or less, the lowest rates.

Church Lessons from the Nielsen study

Ward and June Cleaver have left the building. It’s not the traditional post-WW2 family anymore and that has implications for marketing firms (AND CHURCHES) trying to reach customers and audiences in key demographic groups.  What are some of those implications?

  • Hard Choices about Youth Ministry. Family units today are multi-cultural, older, and increasingly childless households.  A focus on youth ministry as a basis for growing the church is likely to be less effective than in the past.  It still is an important part of church life but critical mass in kids will be harder to get.  This argues for collaboration across parishes and with the Diocese to build shared youth ministry programs serving wider audiences with an ever changing menu of programs and services many of which are mobile or create online networks.
  • Slow Organic Growth in New Households with Children (38 million) will force business to steal market share from competitors or expand product segmentation to fit multi-cultural lifestyles For St. Timothy’s and the Diocese this means collaboration on adult ministry programs and shared services since no parish is likely going to be able to do everything.
  • Every Day is Pentecost with ‘Welcome Home’ in many Cultures, Ages and Voices. It also means our ‘welcoming tradition’ is both more important than ever before and needs to be communicated in many different ways to reach a multi-cultural audience.  One size does not fit all anymore, if it ever did. Reaching target audiences to introduce them to St. Timothy’s requires a network of multi-channel messages for reaching different types of families, using differences in media preferences, device usage and time-shifting behavior to help people ‘do church’ on their time while feeling “connected” to a community of faith they can call home and where they feel welcome, respected, wanted and loved for who they are just as Jesus taught us.
  • Hispanics represent a large and fast growing part of California’s future with distinctive cultural habits that we must respect to get our message out.  At the same time Nielsen found there are  two myths of Hispanic consumers which must be recognized
    • Myth#1: you can be successful reaching Hispanics with general market campaigns
    • Myth# 2: Hispanics are late technology adopters, so don’t use online and mobile.
  • St. Timothy’s Market Service Area also includes a Growing, diverse Asian community. The messaging and outreach strategies for the Asian community in the Dougherty Valley and San Ramon parts of our service area is different than the Hispanic focus on growth in East Contra Costa County. So our messaging will also need to reflect those differences.  If the Diocese is successful in developing area ministry programs to support parish needs those programs are going to be multi-cultural so they can meet this broad diversity of needs.

Nielsen tells us the New Digital American Family has arrived at a ‘demographic inflection point’ that will change the way everything from advertising, product design and church are offered and accepted in a competing marketplace of ideas and messages.

Doing Church is going to be an Interesting Experience and the rector we choose is going to be called upon to work in ways quite different from our ‘DIY’ traditions where each parish or congregation does their own thing.  We may not want to change but change is still coming our way because of technology, changing demographics and the changing needs of those we seek to serve.

Resistance is futile—besides our growing family is so rich with new cultural lessons to teach us we won’t want to miss it.


4 thoughts on “What Nielson’s The Digital American Family Study Means for our Church Future

  1. Good day! This is my first comment here so I just
    wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I truly enjoy reading your articles.
    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that
    go over the same subjects? Thanks!

    1. The RESOURCES category contains a list of other resources I’ve collected so I’d suggest you start there. I have found personally that there is such a wealth of material out there so just Google the key words and see what you find.

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