Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Target Audience

While out traveling the county for my job, I noticed a billboard for a church and memorized the website. We are still ambivalent about the church we attend and have thought about visiting a few more, so I figured I would check out the website and see what this one was about.

Here's how it described itself:

R-- is a casual, contemporary, Christian church meeting at the ***** ****, Florida. Our service is designed specifically for college students, urban professionals and young families.

College students.....urban professionals.....young families.

I was taken aback by this simple sentence. Rarely does a church spell out , so specifically, who it is they want to attend their church. Churches often segregate themselves subconsciously; tending to be made up of the same ethnic, social, or economic demographic. Most of the time this happens because people tend to "congregate" with other people who are just like themselves. The same phenomena happens at school sometimes when there is a "jock" table, a "geek" table, a "black" table, and a "white" table in the lunchroom. No one says it has to be that way; it just happens.

So, churches are often skewed toward a particular population depending on their location and style.

What is interesting about this particular church is that it is located near some very poor neighborhoods. It is close to the downtown center of a large city. The residential areas surrounding this church are old homes which are populated almost entirely with minorities and lower-income families. They are not the "urban professionals" that this church seems to be looking for. A few miles away from the church are some high-rise condos that real-estate companies are desperately trying to unload in this bad housing market. They are upscale, expensive, and largely vacant.

The marketing style of the church is very edgy. Their ads are slick and their site is well-done. They are what most people would call "seeker-sensitive" or maybe "emergent". They describe their approach as "current as the newspaper". They want to be accessible to people...just so long as you're the kind of people they are looking for.

It's the wrong approach. You can't follow Jesus in a poor neighborhood and plan to design your service for people who don't actually live there.

It's a slap in the face to the people around them.

As I continue to drive through different neighborhoods for my job, I am struck by how often old, poor neighborhoods have boarded up churches. No one wants to minister there. All the big, active churches have moved away from the cities, out to where the subdivisions are...where things are "nicer"....where things are "safer".....where you can be sure that the congregation has enough money to pay the electric bill each month.

If you are going to plant a church to teach people about Jesus, you have no right to declare who your "target" audience is. Your audience is simply those who want to listen. Your audience is all who would like to worship Christ. Your audience is anyone and everyone.

Jesus ministered wherever he went. Whoever was closest to him was his audience. He went out to seek that which was lost, not those who made him feel "comfortable".

What's sad is that this church uses the term "relevant" to describe itself, but is completely irrelevant to the groups of people who are right next door to them.

No comments: