Relevance & The iPhone Experiment

PLEASE NOTE: I originally posted this on my personal blog. Since then there has been some lively debate in my comments section from tech folks over the iPhone and my “results”. – Chris Elrod

The main purpose of my personal blog…my speaking ministry…and my postings on this blog…is to keep church leaders informed about what motivates…and doesn’t motivate….young 20-somethings to get involved with church. It’s a changing world with changing attitudes out there that seems to be miles away from what we are doing in churches today.

Recently, I decided to take an informal poll of young 20-somethings to see what they thought about the new Apple iPhone. The blogs, mainstream press and gadget-sites are all ga-ga over this thing…forget the fact that very few people have actually seen one in the wild…much less touched it. Everyone over the age of 25 with a pulse wants one. However, I wasn’t convinced that it was even on the radar of younger folks.

The poll was very informal and mostly handled through email on Facebook or MySpace. While it wasn’t very scientific, I polled a sample of 100 people under the age of 25 from all over the United States over the last two weeks and got 76 responses. This is what I found out:

100% knew about the iPhone.
92% knew it was launching sometime in June 2007 through AT&T Wireless.
47% personally sought out information online about the capabilities of the iPhone.
21% said they would head into an AT&T store to play with it.
11% said they had some interest in buying one.
6% said they were going to buy an iPhone when it launched.
83% said they had no interest in buying one.

In some follow-up communication I discovered that the main reasons why they were not even interested in purchasing an Apple iPhone was (in order):

1. The features and capabilities of the iPhone were just not relevant to their life. Apparently it can’t do text messaging, high-speed net surfing, download multi-media messages or have customized ringtones/screensavers (i.e., no individual personality). They also said it was too big and fragile for their everyday use.

2. All of the hype and marketing made it seem cheesy. I was confused on this one so I asked for some clarification. Here’s one answer that sums up the point…”the commercials are not geared for young people…they’re a corporate sell-out to reach 30-somethings…they’re trying to impress older folks. Pirates Of The Caribbean is a family movie, calamari is a rich man’s food and the seafood place they found online is no place that people my age would go. It’s so over-hyped and marketed that it just comes off as cheesy.” Enough said!

3. Too much money to pay for stuff they already own. The logic was why lay out $600 when you already own a cell phone, a laptop and an iPod? Good point.

4. Wasn’t willing to switch to AT&T Wireless. Some did indicate when their current contracts with other carriers were up they might consider an iPhone.

5. No proven track record. Most folks I polled are still stinging over the flickering screens and breaking cases of the first generation Macbooks. They want to wait a few years until the bugs are fleshed out and third party developers have added the features that the iPhone currently lacks.

Why do I mention this poll on a blog for church planters and leaders. Because modern churches seem to think that acquiring the latest technology some how makes them relevant. I’ve already seen some church leadership and church tech blogs stating how it will be hip and cool to own one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 41-years-old that still worships at the “Church of Technology”…at 6:00 PM on June 29th I’ll be in line at my AT&T store to play with an iPhone. However, the folks I’m trying to reach for Christ couldn’t give a rip about them.

If young 20-somethings don’t give a rip about the Apple iPhone…what else do I think is cool or relevant…that they don’t?


34 thoughts on “Relevance & The iPhone Experiment

  1. I’m over 25 and I have no interest in the phone. I love Apple. I’m even typing this on my MAC, but for all of the reasons and a few more I’m have no interest whatsoever in getting one. Not the least of which is that it just doesn’t fit into my values.

  2. Great post Chris.

    I even asked my 18 and 21 year olds about the iPhone and they said the same thing.

    It’s all the over 40 tech heads that are itching to get one.

    It is amazing though that it has all of that stuff on it…and it cannot text message…what a waste!

    B.T.W. Chris, I read your blog all the time…keep up the good work…you are a blessing and an inspiration

  3. Chasing relevancy seems so backward to me. Trying to figure out a relevant way to ‘attract’ people to come to church sounds really silly.

    The church is a gathering of believers. Those believers should be ‘going out’ into the world and preaching the gospel, converting people to Christianity and those converts should be going to church to be discipled.

    If you tie your ministry to relevance then you’re going to end up in the Graveyard of Relevance.

  4. crosebrough,

    I think you seem to forget that as culture changes…so does relevance.

    What is relevant today may not be tomorrow.

    The church too should change…it is a living breathing organism. If it is not changing, growing, then it must be dead.

    Going to a dead church is silly to me!

    Oh…and by the way…Stryper doesn’t look like that anymore and they sound much better.

    Viva le relevance!

  5. Jimmy,

    The message of the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross transcends cultures and fads.

    This message speaks to all of us whether we’re punks, thugs, dweebs, geeks, rockers, rappers, hip hoppers or middle aged suburban white guys. Why? Because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

    The pop culture landscape shifts daily. Looking for a relevant way to attract a segment of the culture du jour is like chasing the wind.

    Plus, as a Christian I don’t want to be relegated to only fellowshipping with people and reaching out to people who fit my cultural sub-group of middle-aged, middle-class overweight married white guys who like golf, theology and body-boarding.

    But, I will say this. I don’t know the first thing about the Hip Hop subculture Yet, I shared Christ with a kid in that sub-culture not too long ago. I didn’t use a gimick or a ‘relevant hook’ to spark up the conversation. We were as culturally opposite as night and day. But we had A LOT in common. Both of us are sinners whom Christ died for. That was all the common ground I needed.

    If I had even tried to act like I knew anything about this kids culture or tried to ‘relate to him’ on his level then he would have shut the conversation down faster than you could say ‘black eyed peas’.

    God didn’t send him a ‘Hip Hop Pastor’ to share the gospel with him, God sent me.

    The very first word of the Great Commission is “Go”.

    The problem is not that people don’t find church relevant and therefore are not ‘coming to our churches’.

    The problem is that Christians are not ‘Going’.

    Church is for Believers.

    Believers ‘Go’ into the world and preach the message of the Gospel to everyone.

    God opens the hearts of some who hear and they become believers.

    Those believers then go to church become disciples and then they ‘Go’ into the world and preach the gospel.

    When we alter church to make it relevant so that non-believers will ‘come’ to church we’re doing things backward.

  6. One way to make your beliefs more relevant is to avoid making factual statements that are just blatantly wrong. How could you seriously write a line like “apparently it can’t do text messaging”? Who is going to sell a phone that can’t do text messaging? All you had to do was to check out the iPhone section of the Apple website to discover quickly that it uses SMS text messaging. And if you are actually commenting on the workability of the touch-screen keyboard, then say that! You already managed to mislead “Jimmy” on this issue, so it does matter what you say.

  7. Quote: “Apparently it can’t do text messaging, high-speed net surfing, download multi-media messages or have customized ringtones/screensavers.”

    And to quote one of your commenters: “it has all of that stuff on it…and it cannot text message…what a waste!”

    Seriously, are you making this stuff up? Of course the iPhone can do text messaging, through SMS just like every other phone in the world. Perhaps you’re referring to IM which is extremely rare on phones as it is, but you’ll likely see an IM client for the iPhone through Safari within days of the launch anyway which will put the iPhone way ahead of the pack because you won’t get nickled and dimed to death for every message you send.

    High-speed surfing? It doesn’t get any more high-speed than WiFi which the iPhone uses and is not crippled in any way like every phone from Verizon.

    As for MMS, who cares.. it’s got full HTML email and full Safari web access. MMS sucks. And nobody has ever given any indication one way or another about being able to buy ringtones or screensavers. They can implement that feature into iTunes in two seconds.

    Come one.. do some research. I know it’s popular to bash the iPhone, but at least be accurate when detailing its shortcomings.

  8. Uh…if I am not mistaken…SMS messaging requires internet capabilities does it not? Where as normal text messaging does not. So to me…if SMS messaging requires internet, then it is not the simple text messaging in the purest sense.

    And beside that…I agree with Joe…I am not about to spend $600.00 on a phone when there is much work that needs to be done whether foreign missions or home missions.

    Chris…(that is you isn’t it?)

    I understand what you are saying…I think…the way I feel about relevancy is this…it is a simple equation: Relevance = Relational.

    Read my post “eBay Your Religion” and hopefully you will see my point.

    Thank you and have a great day!

  9. No, Joe, the point is that instead of spending time polling people on their misconceptions about the iPhone and then adapting your expectations about life to those misconceptions, how about spending that time dispelling them by encouraging them to do a little research? This lesson applies to religion as well as to marketing.

  10. What the iPhone is about is what a mobile phone can be, rather than what it already is. Most people who have mobile phones do not have the features that your respondents listed; they are simple, “free” phones in 90% of the cases.

    What was the market for the iPod when it was first delivered? Almost all of the pundits were knocking it as being too expensive, as not having enough disk space, incompatible with the present music players, no FM, not compatible with Microsoft, etc. Many customers, in spite of this, found that Apple had provided a unique product that suited their needs. Needs that they didn’t even know existed because no one had offered them before.

    What you are relating is the conventional wisdom and the conventional wisdom, while not always wrong, can be misleading. Do the present phones satisfy the needs of most mobile phone users? I think not. The customers will decide who is right, Apple or your respondents. Care to make a bet? I suspect I would take your money.

  11. I am not a spokesperson for Apple…nor was my intent to really produce “facts” about the iPhone. My point was two-fold:

    1. To point out what young 20-somethings thought about the iPhone.

    2. To point out that what may be relevant to church leadership…may not be relevant to the people they are trying to reach.

    In the process I seemed to have caused quite an uproar over what the Apple iPhone will actually do..and not do.

    In my defense Paul Johnson, I made it quite clear that my polling was completed last week. I tallied up the votes this week and broke down the data for conclusions. It has only been in the last few days with television advertising and Steve Jobs’ presentation on Monday that much information about the capabilities of the iPhone has been revealed. My quotes on the capabilities of the iPhone came directly from the young consumers I was trying to gather information from. Whether Apple…or you…likes it…perception is reality!!! The perception was…and still is from some recent late returns of my poll questions…that text messaging without internet access would not be available on the iPhone. I am not an employee of Apple so I do not know…nor do you, Paul…exactly what the iPhone will and won’t do. Apparently, until the actual release at 6:00 PM on June 29th…no one outside of the Apple higher ups will know.

    By the way, check out my latest blog post. Someone from Apple contacted me today about my post.

  12. FWIW, SMS is text messaging via the cell network, and not to be confused with IM which is via the net. Each SMS sent costs, depending on your contract, Few Americans use it, while it’s incredibly popular in Europe (where it started) and Australia, more so because it can be sent to groups so it has both business and social applications.

    That you don’t understand this is not a problem; what is a problem is that when it the same explanation was pointed out to you, you didn’t bother to fact check. Will you do it now and not mislead any further?

  13. Main reason for a Christian to not buy an iPhone is that it will not let him/her talk to GOD just like the way President Bush does!!!

  14. @Chris

    I’m pretty sure that Christians don’t believe that ‘perception is reality.’ Thus, those that do and do not believe are ‘right.’ Not really a way to grow the Christian faith.

    I’m not trying to split hairs or anything, I’m just saying because a bunch of teenagers *think* something to be true (ha, I laugh at all the nonsense I believed in those formative years) doesn’t necessarily make it true.

    I have almost no doubt that the iPhone will be an ‘oooh’ and ‘aaaah’ device. Even to teens. In fact the only real barrier I see to younger teen adoption is not what they think it can or can’t do (I mean, jimminy cristmas, have you seen the shoes with the wheels in the heel? As if all the hype and marketing around them didn’t make them seem cheesy…), but rather that they don’t necessarily even know what $600 looks like.

    However, the conduit to God, or even to the minds of teenagers, the iPhone is not. Though for completely different reasons, I’ve got to conclude the article is 100% correct. Appealing to what teens feel is ‘hip’ and ‘relevant’ seems more a part of the psychology that has embraced America following the Baby Boom generation. We’re not supposed to identify with teens today, they don’t need someone to identify with them. They need someone to kick them in the rear of the girl pants they wear, introduce them to some music that doesn’t sound like garbage, and get a serious lesson in responsibility and making the right choices.

    ~ A devout, yet respectful (I hope) atheist.

  15. Well, if you spend all your time talking on or playing with the iPhone, then you’ll really have no time to talk to God. 🙂

    And just to be clear, there is a version of the iPhone for $499. Still pricy but not so much when compared to an iPod.

    And assuming 3G cell and wi-fi hotspots start to proliferate (possibly because of the iPhone), then once people realize having the power of the Internet in their pocket, instant access to YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, or even Christian sites et al, they’ll be some rethinking about it.

  16. Louis – You really missed the point. I have no doubts that the iPhone will sale like hotcakes. I just think my poll shows it probably won’t be to young least not the first round of phones. One other thing, for the polling folks I talked to…most everyone had the features I listed. 3G is major with them!!! Again, Apple never intended to reach the young market with the iPhone…at least not yet. The young 20-somethings couldn’t afford one right now. Also, keep in mind…that when they released the iPod Apple came to the quick realization that the price was causing them to leave out what has become their major mp3 player market…young people. Thus the Mini, Shuffle and nano was created. I feel that somewhere along the line Apple will get the clue here also.

    Les – I’ve very aware of what SMS is. It may not be that popular in your age group…but it’s HUGE in young 20-somethings. They mass text message stuff to their friends all of the time. There is entire marketing campaigns being used around it in our church.

    To all – I have found this whole thing to be a little odd. The MacHeads out there (which I have just become one) just can’t grasp the reality that this whole post was about perception & relevance. It seems that they can’t get past the fact that a whole demographic of people out there…tomorrow’s consumer…really has no interest in the lastest Apple thing. I think the funniest thing is that most of those that have fiercely defended the capabilities of the iPhone…have not really addressed the findings of my informal, unscientific poll. In fact many have suggested that they may actually be on base.

    Finally, I think we…as church leaders…can something from the “argument” that has taken place over all of this. The tech folks have been unwavering in their support for something they cannot see, touch or physically examine. They just know that their faith in Apple has not been shaken and they trust Steve Jobs & Co. to provide a quality product. I think there is analogy there somewhere that we can take to heart as Christians about defending God to an unbelieving world….

  17. All your poll has shown is how your 100 samples have realied on what they have heard rather than what actually is.

    Once any sub 20 sees iTunes and YouTube on the iPhone, I will gurantee you they will want one.

    As to Apple marketing a $600 phone to the 30+ crowd, uh, duh?

  18. Chris,

    Great point!

    It is amazing what we as humans will put our blind faith and trust in.

    Would that Christians could be so fervant in their defense of God.

  19. The Christian message has relevance to all people, of all ages, in all cultures. The iPhone marketing message is relevant to affluent people who like bright, shiny objects, and are easily distracted by new toys. It doesn’t matter what one considers bling or 1337, it’s all the same in the end. Remember Matthew 19:16-30 or Mark 10:17-31.

    If one can use an iPhone in a spirit of Christian stewardship, to help bring the Good News to everyone that they meet, more power to them. If it becomes another geek toy that distracts us from the Christian vocation to “preach always, and sometimes use words” (attributed to St. Francis of Assisi), then perhaps we’re better off without one. Pray for discernment.

  20. I didn’t address your point on perception and relevance because my church doesn’t chase after trends. We Christians need to be culturally relevant but we do that in how we converse about things and explain things and which things we talk about with whom, not in the things we buy or own or use. Put another way, because Christ and the gospel is above culture, it can be spoken of to many different cultures. So we need to know what culture we’re in so we can talk about Christ and the gospel in a way that is attractive and meaningful to the people of that culture.

    Next, your comment to Les on text messaging doesn’t seem to make sense. You first wrote that sub-25s said that the iPhone doesn’t do text messaging. Others wondered whether by text messaging, they (and you) meant SMS or IM (as they are similar but not the same). Les pointed out that the iPhone clearly does SMS, but as of today, no IM, so the iPhone does do text messaging (just not the IM kind) – so it was a misperception that you could’ve corrected with the sub 25s but didn’t (and then also didn’t note that the sub 25s had a misperception in your article either, which made it sound like you didn’t know it). For which Les found fault with you. And then you respond back that you understand but he doesn’t. So are you saying that since you were doing a survey, you had no responsibility to correct any misperceptions?

  21. Guys – I’m done. This is completly ridiculous!!! i do not work for Apple…it is not my job…to do their job. Reality or not…the MAJORITY of the folks I polled do not believe that the iPhone can SMS text message over AT&T’s current network. Whether they are wrong or not…my goal was to present their perceptions…thus trying to explain why they don’t give a rip about a piece of technology that the whole world over the age of 30 is talking about.

    From a church leadership stand point I was trying to convey that old farts like myself are completely out-of-step with the thoughts of a 20-year-old. The iPhone is a classic example. It is something I’m excited about…they are not. The point was that the only way a man my age is relevant with young 20-somethings…is when I STOP TRYING TO BE RELEVANT to a 20-year-old!!!

    Mark and Les…if you are so sure that the iPhone can do SMS text messaging…please take out your brand new Apple iPhone…right this minute…not two weeks from now…AND TEXT ME A MESSAGE!!!! 🙂

    I am tired and I am frustrated. I am totally sick of my entire day being consumed by one stupid issue about one stupid cell phone that no one but Apple has any definitive answers about. I commend the church planters and leaders out there that have emailed me…you got the point of the post. For the tech head, Mac freaks…please work on your obsessive compulsive disorder. There has got to be more to your lives than reading every word about an Apple product and then dogging the crap out of someone if they don’t see it your way!

    My hope is that within a few days this will die down and I can go back to just being a mild-mannered church planting blogger. When the iPhone actually hits the streets and real people (not Apple employees) have a chance to use it…I will alter my original post if it turns out the perception of the folks I polled was…is…wrong. Until then, I will no longer answer questions or respond to comments about the iPhone capabilities. As always…I have no problem with dialogue about relevant Christianity, church planting or church leadership. My time as “tech guru” (I say that with tongue firmly planted in cheek0 is officially over.

    Good night.

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  24. I am definitely drooling on the sidelines over this iPhone. But then I read Mike Metzger’s words on this, and it brought me down to earth. He is a fellow from the Clapham Institute.

    I posted them here:
    “What might the iPhone undo?”

    I wish I had written this, it is so tight!

    I think his thought are a bucket of cold water. I am not saying that after reading his article, that I wouldn’t buy an iPhone, but that I need to ask thoughtful questions about the technology in my life, before I just rush to embrace it. Tell me what ya think.

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