Enter Christians and churches. We have been called to communicate a message to the world, a message of hope for sinners through Jesus Christ. We have a great commission, from our God and Savior himself: "Go and make disciples." This is a high calling from a great master and is worthy of effort, excellence, and effectiveness. We must ask the question, how can we proclaim this truth in the best way possible?
Some leaders in the church have concluded from business models that the church also needs to be targeting our audience, so that we can be most effective in sharing the gospel. There are now "generation" churches and "emerging" churches and "seeker-sensitive" churches and all sorts of different labels that identify who the leaders of that church hope will attend.
As I mentioned in my last post on relevant ministry, I think this is a trap. I'm going to expand on this Trap of the Target Audience a bit more by highlighting some lures of this business mindset and some possible pitfalls of the approach.
Why is the idea of Target Audience so appealing to the church?
- First, I think the idea of the target audience is appealing because it has been effective in the business world. Marketing, specialized products, and generation-specific media forms have made targeting your audience one of the most important and helpful tools in selling a product. It will also be helpful in spreading the truth of Jesus Christ, right?
- Choosing a target audience is more efficient. The church can become experts at sharing the gospel with such-and-such a group, which will be more effective.
- Choosing a target audience can help us avoid controversy. All the disagreements about musical style, preaching approach, technology use, and so on can be simplified by making decisions on what will be most useful for reaching our target audience.
- We may not be able to reach everyone. Let's face it, most evangelistically-minded churches are not targeting the 80-year olds. If each church targets an audience, the church as a whole will inevitably leave out some, most likely the weak, the poor, and the uncool. If that happens, then we've lost track of the "Go and make disciples of all nations."
- We could end up with single-generation churches, and this would be a tragedy. How can a church obey the commands of Titus 2 ("Older women teach younger women") if there are no older women or younger women around? Another version of this, which has been happening for the entire history of our country, is single-nationality churches. This is another tragedy!
- This could lead to generational church-hopping. What happens when the 20-something church turns ten years old and everyone's in their thirties. Does it become the 30-something church? Or does everyone go off to find a 30-something church when they "outgrow" the 20-something church?
- Our children may be confused. Which church do they attend? At what point does a teenager or young adult go to a church with something targeted directly to them? What happens to their relationships with their parents at that point?
- This could lead (already has?) to a consumer mentality in choosing churches. "I will attend the church that most effectively targets my needs, desires, and preferences. Someday maybe I'll find an even better one."
A quick note of clarification: I'm speaking here about a church as a whole targetting one small segment of the population in the majority of their ministry work. I can understand that the young adult ministry of a multi-generational church would hope to connect with that particular group specifically. This makes sense as long as there is also a context where the young adults get to worship and serve alongside other generations, younger and older.
Also, you may wonder, what in the world does this have to do with media? The connection I make is that one of the primary ways that churches target a particular audience is through tailoring media, from preaching to graphics to videos to anything else, to that audience's tastes. And as the people who produce church media, we need to know why we are doing what we are doing and what effect it will have on the future of our church.
Is there anything I've missed? Do you disagree? I'd love to hear from you!