After years of churches and ministries playing catch-up to the digital revolution, we’re finally here. Most modern churches have at least some web presence, even if it isn’t a particularly beautiful site or has lots of outdated information. In youth ministry, we’ve embraced social media with both hands. Planning an event now includes Facebook pages and videos on YouTube. If you need to remind a student of something you send them a text or ping them on Facebook. Parents get emails.
When President Obama ran for office the first time, his campaign was heralded for it’s commanding use of social media. They capitalized on Twitter and Facebook, mobilizing a large part of the youth vote with a well executed online presence. It was a novelty then, and it made them stand out. Fast forward four years and social media is now the norm. You could no longer stand out just by being good at being online. Everyone has a social media presence, including your aunt’s cat.
So, the Obama campaign went old school, printing 3.5 million booklets to put into people’s hands. The idea was simple, to cut through the noise of digital media, people needed to have something tangible in their hands. Politics aside, that’s a wise little insight there. Now that digital communication is the norm and every person, brand, and cause is clamoring for the limited real estate of your smartphone screen, it is the tangible, in-real-life things that stand out.
Write more letters.
There is something remarkable about the simplicity of writing a note, considering how life-giving it can be. Do you remember the last time you were excited about checking the mail? How about the last time you were excited and it wasn’t because you were expecting an order from Amazon?
I have a friend who moved recently for a ministry opportunity. She doesn’t have access to email or Facebook, and the difference in schedules means it’s unlikely for us to catch up on the phone. We used to Skype and text, now we write letters. While there are many advantages to instant communication, I’ve been amazed at how quickly I’ve fallen in love with letter writing again. I’d forgotten some of the qualities unique to corresponding via snail mail.
Letters take time.
I can type nearly twice as fast as I handwrite a letter, meaning it takes a considerable amount of time to write a substantial letter. It can take upwards of 45 minutes to an hour, whereas a meaningful email or Facebook message often takes only 10 minutes or so. The positive effect of this is that I think more about what I’m saying, I have more time to consider my next words and often find that I end up capturing a more completed series of thoughts because of it. Handwriting lets the ideas marinate in your mind before they are put to paper.
Letters are tangible.
I have a box of notes and letters that I keep in my office for encouragement. Some of those messages were originally sent to me by email or Facebook, but I printed them out so I could revisit them in when I needed. There is something that seems more substantial and organic about reading from a page rather than a screen. It’s funny how the medium can hinder or help the actual message. Something written by hand somehow means more.
Letters demonstrate investment.
When you receive a letter a few things are implied. The person who sent it to you cared enough to find some paper and a pen, craft a message, look up your address, find a stamp, and make a trip to the mailbox. Though we don’t consciously think of all the steps that were involved in getting that correspondence to your doorstep, I think we subconsciously recognize that it was a meaningful gesture. In short, we feel appreciated.
So, while I will never advocate for a return to the days before texting and social networks, it’s important that we also not leave behind the lost art of letter writing. In fact, it’s perhaps even more important now than it was back then.