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:
- 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.
- They are less likely to have a church background. 75% of families attend church seldom or not at all.
- 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/)
- They are increasingly millennial. Millennials are approaching 40. Millennial women accounted for 82% of births in 2016.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Transcendent experiences happen on Sundays, but transformative experiences can happen anytime. We focus on reaching people between Sundays.