For many years, church growth experts taught pastors how to do ministry by demographic groups. Decide the type of person your church is targeting, then design everything you do to reach that kind of person. There were a lot of big churches built that way. And a lot of small churches that died trying. The days of church demographics are coming to an end. And not a minute too soon.
A Questionable Strategy
Ministering to people as members of a demographic group was always a questionable strategy, at best. Seeing people primarily (or only) as members of a group may be a great way to attract a crowd, but it’s never a good way to disciple them. And discipleship is what we’re called to do
If your church is still trying to reach people by appealing to a specific demographic, it’s time to stop. Here are 6 reasons why (these are not in order of importance):
1. It’s Putting The Cart Before The Horse
When we do ministry by demographics we start by asking the wrong questions. Instead of beginning with “what is God’s plan for this church?” we’re asking “what does this type of person want from a church?”
David Bowie said, “I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that.”
2. Businesses Aren’t Even Doing It That Way Anymore
The rise of metadata is allowing businesses to see the importance of individualization. Broadcasting has given way to narrow-casting. “Pick a number” is changing to “what’s your name?” Sure, Starbucks may get our name comically wrong sometimes, but the effort matters.
The church has to start by asking “what does Jesus want?” then ask how that applies, not to a church demographics group, but to individuals with names, needs, histories and values.
3. People Are More Than Their Group
Consider the average person coming to one of our churches – or one that we’d like to see come to our church. How can we possibly categorize them without diminishing them?
We can’t. So we shouldn’t.
4. One Size Fits All… Doesn’t
There’s no church that can suit everyone. Or even suit everyone in a specific church demographics group, no matter how tightly or accurately you define that group.
Certainly, there are some decisions that have a one-size-fits-all feel to them, like what songs we’ll sing together, what time we’ll meet and so on. But even those are changing with the advent of multi-site churches.
5. People In Healthy Churches Don’t All Look The Same
If everyone in your church looks the same, votes the same, makes a similar amount of money, or comes from the same background, something is wrong.
With a handful of exceptions (like ministering to a language group or in a senior housing complex) any church that is too narrowly defined by any identity other than Jesus will soon make that identity more important than Jesus.
The church is about creating a community that includes all demographic backgrounds. This was so in the early church (Gal 3:28) and it will be true in heaven (Rev 7:9). It needs to be true of us today.
6. No One Wants To Be A Target
In recent years I’ve had several conversations with church members in which I mentioned that some churches intentionally target a demographic group.
I didn’t raise the issue in a critical way – in fact, the first few times I did it was in the context of a larger church leadership conversation in which I was considering doing it in our church, like I’ve been taught. But every time I tell congregation members about churches having a target market, their reaction is the same – and it’s strong.
They’re appalled. No one wants to be targeted.
Of course, they’re not naïve. They know businesses and politicians do that all the time. But they have the right to expect that their local church is thinking better of them than that.
Targeting people as members of a demographic group can get you a crowd. But at what cost? Not just to your church, but to the people being targeted?
It’s not worth it.
Instead Of Targeting…
No church can do everything or reach everyone. That’s why there are so many types, styles and sizes of churches available.
It’s perfectly fine to narrow the type of ministry your church does. In fact, it’s helpful.
Like the Apostle Paul said “this one thing I do…”
But he also said “I have become all things to all people…”
That should be our pattern. Do one thing. Preach Christ and him crucified in the way God guides your church to do that.
Don’t target people. Target your strengths, your calling, and your mission.
Then it’s “whosoever will may come.”
This article originally appeared here, and is used by permission.