Targeting your audience

Ten principles to help you discover and reach an audience

Ronald L. Preast is an evangelist for the Washington Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Bothell, Washington.

Driving down the highway, you switch on the radio. The music begins. The first song is a conservative Christian song by George Beverly Shea. Next is a country and western ballad about a man losing his wife to someone else. This is followed by hard rock, with the guitars so loud you can't understand a single word the singer is yelling, and what you do understand isn't appropriate for the airwaves. Then comes the final song, a rap with lyrics that are more than you can take. You turn off the radio and travel on in silence.

The chance of you finding a radio station like this is highly unlikely. Radio marketers recognize one important marketing tool: you must play music for the particular audience you are trying to reach. If you enjoy classical music, the country and western station is not for you. If you prefer the sounds of Nat King Cole, those playing hard rock know and accept that you are not going to tune in to their stations.

In the same way, discovering a specific target audience and aiming for that target can greatly increase the effectiveness of your ministry. It will help you to discover what type of people live in your community and what your church can do to attract them to your services. More important, you will discover how your church can best meet the needs of the people around you.

The following guidelines will help you discover and reach a target audience. Try not to make these steps a theological issue. These are only ways to help make your ministry more effective.

Pray for a desire to reach the unsaved

Church growth demands that the pastor must want the church to grow. As Peter Wagner says: "The most formidable obstacle to growth that I know of is a pastor who thinks negatively and who is pessimistic about growth opportunities in the community. Such a pastor generally feels that the basic task of the church is to care for those sheep already in the fold rather than to concentrate on winning lost sheep and constantly incorporating new ones into the flock."1

I know what it is like to pastor a church where your only goal is to survive. I know what it is like just to maintain a church, waiting for the day you can move on to somewhere else. Go to your knees and pray and pray and pray. This is the first and most important step in reaching the lost. Pray that you and your congregation will have the willingness and the desire to reach out to those who do not know Jesus Christ.

Look at your geographic area

On a map of your city, pinpoint the location of your church. Draw three circles representing one-, three-, and five-mile radii around your church. This is your target area. The people living in this area will be most likely to drive to your church. With your one- to five-mile radii drawn out, determine the population. You can figure that at least 50 percent of the people in your defined community are unchurched; that is, they do not attend any church on a regular basis.

Understand your community demographically

Now you want to determine what type of people live in this area. What type of work do most of the people do— white collar or blue collar? What is the average number of children living at home and their average ages?

Demographic studies are very helpful in finding this information. You can get those studies at a low cost from the U.S. Census Bureau. Check your local library. The county and city planning departments also keep statistics. Church Information and Development Services (CIDS), 3001 Redhill Avenue, Suite 2-220, Costa Mesa, California 92626-9664 (800-442-6277), collects commercial demographic data and pack ages it specially for church leaders.

Understand people culturally

Don't rely on demographic studies alone. Spend time with people to sharpen the focus of your ministry and become more efficient. We often blame lack of response in advertising to a poor handbill or lack of spiritual interest in the community. While some of this may be true, we may have failed to touch on a felt need in the area.

A door-to-door survey I adapted from Rick Warren of the Saddleback Valley Community Church in California has proven very beneficial in discovering a target audience and their needs. The survey is a series of nonthreatening questions:

A. Are you currently active in a lo cal church that you have attended in the past six months?

I have found it important to ask if they have attended the church in the past six months. Once a woman answered yes. But in the course of conversation I dis covered that she hadn't attended church in two years. If they answer yes to this first question, I ask them what attracted them to the church. I am interested in what other churches are doing that people find appealing. With this information I end the survey and go to the next door. If they answer no to question 1, then I proceed to the other questions.

B. What do you feel is the greatest need in our area?

C. Why do you think most people don't attend church ?

If you ask people why they don't attend church, you are questioning their beliefs. Here you are only asking their opinion about other people. Most likely they will tell you why they don't attend.

D. If you were looking for a church, what kind of things would you look for?

E. What advice would you give me as a pastor of a local church? How could I best help you?

This survey helped me discover facts I would never have known on my own. I found out that the first thing people seek in a church is quality child care. Children's church is no more an option for the people I want to reach; it is a necessity. I also found out that some people miss church simply because of work schedules. Many work weekends and cannot attend on a Saturday or Sun day morning. To meet this need we hold Friday night services.

Get out and meet people. Listen to their needs, wants, criticisms, and com plaints. Some information you will be able to use. Some of it your church will not be able to fulfill. Keep an open mind and really listen to what the people have to say.

Understand who you are

Look at yourself. You will attract people who are like you. What is your background? Around whom do you naturally feel comfortable? If you grew up in a blue-collar family, that is whom you are going to attract. If you came from a white collar family and find yourself pastoring in a farming community, you will probably find a certain amount of frustration. It is not a matter of one group being right or wrong, better or worse; we are just different. Different people and programs appeal to different people.

Look at who is already attending your church

Take a good hard look at your church and ask, "What kinds of people already attend here?" It helped me to understand people and churches immensely when I discovered the homogeneous principle. "A 'homogeneous unit' is simply a group of people who consider each other to be 'our kind of people.' They have many areas of mutual interest. They share the same culture. They socialize freely. When they are together they are comfortable and they all feel at home." 2 People are attracted to those who are like themselves. This does not mean that you are not going to minister to those who don't fit your desired tar get audience. The issue, as Logan suggests, is "Whom will you structure your church to attract? If you structure your church to attract blue collars, and white collars come, God bless 'em. But recognize that God has called you to put your time and energy into assimilating and developing the blue collars (or whatever is the description of your intended target audience), and don't apologize for it. ... Effective pastors realize that their church in a socioculturally complex society must be a specialist rather than a generalist."3

Determine the felt needs

Paul did this in his ministry. His preaching met the needs of people. Listen to him: "Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

"To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. ... To the weak I be came weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings" (1 Cor. 9:19-23, NIV).

We can do no less. Unless our preaching and ministry meets the felt needs of people, we cannot succeed.

"This is the only known way to open closed minds. Gearing your message to the felt needs of any audience is the key to unlocking closed filters. In fact, extensive research and documentation confirm that 'people will not listen to the gospel message and respond unless it speaks to felt needs.'"4

We must do whatever it takes (within the confines of biblical principles) to win the lost around us. If you live in a retirement area, you must have programs for the retired. If you live in a Spanish-speaking community, your services should be in Spanish so those coming will under stand the gospel. If you live in a baby boomer community, your worship service must speak the language and meet the needs of the baby boomers.

Jesus used this approach 2,000 years ago. "Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, 'Fol low Me.'" 5 Every ministry in the church should be examined to see if it is meeting the needs of the people you are trying to reach.

Determine how your church can meet people's needs

With the information you have gathered, consider how your church can meet some of the needs in your community. Remember, you don't have to be like the big church down the street. Your church has some unique gifts of its own and will attract people who will not find those needs met anywhere else. When you begin to meet the needs of people, doctrines are easily accepted. You will find people asking you to teach them what the church believes. Remember the adage "People don't care what you know, till they know that you care."

Expect opposition

Moving a church away from a maintaining mode to an evangelistic mode is no easy task. The older the church, the harder this can be. People get comfortable, and change does not come easily. If you try to turn a church around and seek to reach out to the community, don't be surprised if you receive lots of opposition.

Move slowly

Take your time. Too often pastors do the research, attend seminars on church growth, and come into the church and announce that things have got to change starting today. The members are left aghast, not knowing what has gotten into their pastor. The only thing they can figure out is that they are being pushed out of their comfort zone, and they don't like it. So move slowly.

If you go to a seminar on church growth, share the information you received with the members. Help them to understand many of the concepts that are working elsewhere to bring souls to Jesus. Study the demographic research together so that everyone begins to get a feel for the people in their community at the same time. Let key members accompany you with the door-to-door surveys so they can hear what people are saying. Then they will come back to the church and share this with others.

Most important of all, pray and pray and pray and then pray some more. Winning lost souls for Christ is a spiritual battle, and spiritual battles can be fought only through spiritual warfare. As Bounds states: "Prayer is not preparation for the battle, it is the battle." Never stop praying for the growth of your church. As you pray, God will begin to open doors and show you better ways to reach those around you.

1 C. Peter Wagner, Your Church Can Grow
(Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1984), p. 52.

2 Ibid., p. 127.

3 Robert E. Logan, Beyond Church Growth
(Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1989), p. 72.

4 Dick Innes, I Hate Witnessing (Ventura,
Calif.: Regal Books, 1983), p. 155.

5 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1905), p. 143.

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Ronald L. Preast is an evangelist for the Washington Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Bothell, Washington.

December 1995

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