On Target Audiences

A strategy always starts with “who.”

I don’t know where I first heard that, but it’s stuck with me since, well… forever.

Who are we trying to reach? While the Gospel is for everyone, a ministry model is designed (either intentionally or unintentionally) with someone specific in mind. Preaching, music, programmatic ministry, outreach events, buildings and signage… all of these are designed to serve a specific kind of person.

Who’s your target audience? What do you know about them? What kind of work have you done to better understand their needs?

Here’s an example from the church where I currently serve; I put this together to help our staff understand how they communicate with our target audience:

Where I work, our primary target audience is suburban families who are looking for a church. This is true across all locations. We create experiences with families in mind: Sundays with Kidstown [children’s ministry] and Student Ministry, monthly Family Experience [program for families with young kids], child dedications several times per year, retreats and weekend experiences for middle- and high-schoolers, and special events for families like Harvest Fest [all-church outreach event for young families at two of our campuses] and Watertown’s Egg Scramble. We offer ministries to support healthy marriages, help couples become parents. We introduced a new term, faith parenting, into our lexicon.

There are a few things we know are true about families:

  1. They are busier today than ever before. In Massachusetts, 61% of households have 2 working parents. Children have less downtime and more scheduled activities than ever, and more often than not require a parent to transport them.
  2. They are less likely to have a church background. 75% of families attend church seldom or not at all.
  3. If they do have a church background, that still doesn’t guarantee they’ll like church. 59% of millennials raised in church have dropped out, and 35% of millennials believe that church does more harm than good. (https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/)
  4. They are increasingly millennial. Millennials are approaching 40. Millennial women accounted for 82% of births in 2016.
  5. They feel good about their parenting skills. “Millennial moms, in particular, were more likely than other moms (or dads) to say they were doing a very good job: 57% said this, compared with 48% of Gen X moms and 41% of Boomer moms.” (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/05/04/more-than-a-million-millennials-are-becoming-moms-each-year/)

Most families we are currently reaching and engaging at my church came to us with some prior church experience, and were looking for a quality experience that matched their expectations.

As part of a recent branding project, we developed avatars of the kinds of people we’re trying to reach: “Ethan the indifferent” and “Susan the superwoman.” Both are busy professionals with young kids, and they are at least moderately motivated to seek out church.

So how does the function of communications help reach that target audience? There are a few ways:

  1. Our promotional content that is proof-driven, not pitch-driven. We develop and share content that demonstrates the meaning, purpose, and sustainability of life with God. “People like us do things like this” – we worship, we belong, we serve, we give, and we go.
  2. We put what we offer into a relevant context. The answer is always Jesus, but the question unchurched people are asking isn’t “Jesus?”  We get to Jesus as the answer by starting conversations that focus on meaning, purpose, sustainable living, better relationships, fewer regrets.
  3. We embrace intentional counter(church)culturalism. Church isn’t a social club. We emphasize the aspects of church life that can’t be replicated in our culture. Our goal isn’t to replace peoples’ non-Christian friends with Christian friends. We want to empower people to be Christians who have a positive influence on their non-Christian friends.
  4. Transcendent experiences happen on Sundays, but transformative experiences can happen anytime. We focus on reaching people between Sundays.

The 8 Axioms of Church Communication

#1: You said exactly what you wanted to say, but that doesn’t mean they heard exactly what you wanted them to hear.

If you’re caught off guard when your beautifully crafted call to action doesn’t lead to action, or you’re surprised by those harsh comments on what you thought was a pretty great social media post, or the blog post doesn’t get shared… this is why.

We all have filters. We all have some bias to the way we interpret what someone says. Just remember that bias is also present on the things you say. They don’t sound the same to anyone else as they do to you.

#2: If it’s not on the website, it doesn’t exist.

We live in an on-demand world. SEO matters. The one place people still seek the latest update is your website (that’s changing, but it’s still true). Your website is your growth engine and your cornerstone communication tool.

#3: A strategy always starts with who, and who can’t be everyone.

What makes a movement grow? Starting with your minimum viable audience. Learn about targeting audiences here.

#4: Your brand is the connector between your mission and your culture. The stronger the brand, the stronger the connection.

Investing in your brand pays dividends for a long, long time. I’m not just talking about your logo, colors, and fonts. I’m talking about the continuity between every touch point people experience, from your signage to your website to the volunteer t-shirt.

#5: There will always be more good ideas than there is capacity to execute.

Learn to say no. If that’s too hard, start with “not yet.” No will come.

#6: Design matters. 

In the same way a poorly crafted announcement keeps people from engaging the thing being announced, the quality of the visuals and graphics we produce directly impacts how much people engage with whatever we communicate. This includes everything from social media visuals to signage, wall displays to website. Design isn’t just a value, it’s a tool for reaching more people.

#7: Social media matters. 

We can’t expect everyone to come to us; we have to go to them. The kind of church we are on social media is the kind of church we are, period.

#8: Simplicity matters. 

Simple messages are more easily understood, more memorable, and more repeatable. Simple processes are more easily followed. Simple steps are easier to take. Complexity stifles engagement.

The Caution Tape Effect

You probably love your church lobby after Sunday services. It’s a beehive of activity – conversations and connections, sharing stories and burdens and prayers, new people being greeted, etc.

Now imagine if you took caution tape and blocked off your lobby, so that after church people could not engage with each other, but had to edit the building without talking to anyone.

This is what happens when your church doesn’t have a presence on social media. Just like your people wouldn’t feel as good about church if they couldn’t chat in the lobby on Sunday, there are people who feel less connected when you aren’t engaging them on social media during the week.