by Richard L. Reising
As a church, whom are you called to reach? …to be?
Once you get past the initial fear that many churches have about marketing, the next hurdle tends to be the discussion of target marketing. It sounds insane that we would target certain people and therefore exclude anyone from our pursuit. After all, Paul, our marketing guru-of-old, shared his heart about being “all things to all men.” (1 Cor 9:22) On his missionary journeys, it was incredible to see Paul’s ability to understand the needs and habits of different people groups and adapt his message to meet them right where they lived. He serves as our role model in his pursuit of all men. On the other hand, Paul considered himself called to be “an apostle to the gentiles.” (Rom 11:13). Sounds slightly targeted doesn’t it? How do we reconcile these two pursuits—to reach all and yet to focus only a segment?
Believe it or not, it was not spiritual bigotry that Paul was guilty of in his pursuit of the gentiles. This was a pure sense of Paul understanding his strengths and his calling. Every church has strengths at reaching a “type” of people in its community. While that might strike you as unjust, its truth defines both our strengths and the areas we need to grow in. Whether you are a church that is known for young families, old money, the upper-class, the working-class or the struggling-class—whether you are known for deep followers, surface seekers, empty nesters or down-and-outers—there are tendencies to whom you draw.
Bear with me as I use a non-church example of two famous target marketers in order to paint a picture. Eminem is a mid-thirties rapper who has a number of platinum albums. In America, if you asked anyone from age fifteen to thirty if they knew who Eminem was, you would get over a 90% familiarity rate. Emimen is extremely targeted and he has almost fully saturated his young, pop-culture target. As a result, everything that he does is extremely aimed at the values of a decade’s culture and style. If you are 65 and know who he is, odds are, you do not like him. He does not care. You are not his target. He dresses young and angrily and he raps young and angrily. He appeals to the young and angry.
Now lets look at Josh Groban. He is in his mid-twenties and sings with operatic undertones. A significant amount of you knows who he is, but, despite his youth, he is just as (if not more) likely to have sixty-year-old women listening to his music than he is a sixteen year old. He wears linen suits or nice jeans with a wool turtle-neck and a sports coat. He sings songs of love and inspiration. “You Lift Me Up…” His target audience is spread wide amongst ages and styles. He will never reach a 90% familiarity rate with any one group. He does well by spreading his style thin to reach a little of a lot. This is in juxtaposition to Eminem who reaches a lot of a little. They both sell millions of records, but they both have different target audiences.
Much of what you see succeeding in churches today are those churches who have committed to specific people groups (targets) and styles by which they will pursue them. There are those that succeed with a wider range—targeted more like Josh Groban, but they must maintain to an exhaustingly extraordinary level of ministry to pull it off. After all, Groban would not be able to have such a wide appeal if he did not have one of the greatest voices of all time. Trying to serve all people at once when you are under-staffed and under-resourced is enough to put most churches under. It is harder to appeal to a wider range of people. Eminem does not have Groban’s voice—he just knows which buttons to push. Remind you of any churches?
It is often easier to reach people with common values than it is to attempt to relate to all people. Numerical growth is often the result of ministers committing to whom they are going to reach and developing an attractive style around it. That is why many ministries with less tenure and testing are often numerically successful. They are not better ministers, they just know whom they are trying to reach and are staying true to it. They are spiritual Eminems—focused target marketers. Their true talent is knowing the values of a certain group of people.
If you have been the church that tries to reach all at once, don’t be upset with the church that targets—that brings an angle of style and cultural value to their ministry. The fact is, they will reach certain people even better than you—and you…them. Working together, that makes us the Body of Christ. If you are hungry for their success, do not copy them. You will only be seen as posers. Find your own way. Chances are, in your pursuit to reach all; you’ve been more successful in reaching a certain some. You might just not recognize who they are yet. And in your quest to reach more in His name, be as Paul… becoming all things to reach all, but knowing deep-down who God has called you to reach.
Richard L. Reising is the author of ChurchMarketing 101: Preparing Your Church for Greater Growth (Baker Books). Reising is a speaker and recognized authority on church marketing and branding. Learn more at ChurchMarketing101.com and ArtistryMarketing.com.