Monday, March 18, 2013

Who is your church trying to reach?

Despite the many things our small bivocational church did well, there was one thing that always frustrated me.  (Actually, there were more, but we'll just talk about one today!)  I could never get our congregation to understand the importance of targeting a specific group in our community for outreach.  The response I always received when I brought up the subject was that we were to try to reach all people for Christ.  I could agree with that mindset except it isn't feasible.  Trying to reach everyone meant that we seldom reached anyone.

In one of my small church workshops I ask why anyone would want to attend the churches represented in the workshop.  I explain that in the area in which I live there are Baptist churches on every gravel road, and where those roads intersect there are often two!  If each of these churches sing three songs, have a few prayers, take up an offering, a sermon, and send everyone home inspired to eat lunch, what difference does it make which church people decide to attend?  Often, the response I get has something to do with the friendliness of the church, but most churches believe they are "the friendliest church in town."  In fact, in all my travels I have yet to meet the second most friendliest church in any community!  While people want to attend a church in which people are friendly and welcoming, they are more interested in finding a church that "gets them" and understands the challenges they face. 

Those challenges will be different for a young, professional couple than they will be for a family of six who farm for a living.  The needs of a teenage goth female are likely to be different than those of a second career individual who has returned to school to earn an advanced degree.  The hip-hop artist will often seek something different in a church than will country music fan.  We need to come to terms that a one-size fits all mindset simply does not work for churches in the twenty-first century.

In addition, every church has limited resources that can be used to reach people with the gospel.  I find it interesting that mega-churches such as Saddleback and Willow Creek have determined specific targets they want to reach while smaller churches cling to the idea that they are called to reach everyone.  It's time we realize this is one reason these churches are growing while many of the smaller churches continue to decline.  They are very intentional about who they target while these smaller churches intentionally do not target anyone.  I learned early in hunting that you are most likely to hit a target you aim at than just shooting randomly in some direction.  A small church working with a few volunteers and an outreach budget of a few hundred dollars needs to be very intentional about using those resources in the best possible way, and that means targeting your outreach efforts to a select, specific group within your community.  Yes, you want to reach everyone, and no, you won't turn anyone away because they don't fit your outreach profile, but it is important that you begin to specifically target those you want to reach.


Brian said...

Is it unreasonable to expect congregation members to reach others like them, as opposed to limiting evangelistic outreach to a program that isnt always running?

Dennis Bickers said...

A good rule of thumb is that a church will likely reach those who are most like them more easily than people who are different. As a rural, bluecollar church we knew we probably would not reach professors at a nearby college as an example. Most of the people who came in to our church were very similar in educational backgrounds, work experiences, age, etc as the people who already attended. But, this does not mean that we should not be asking if God has a group in our communities that is going unreached that we might be able to reach out to.