The beginning of the year is a good way to reevaluate practices and procedures and ask if what the church is doing is actually effective. One of things churches should consider is who they are targeting.
It seems a shame that we should even have to consider this question. The church should be trans-generational, trans-gender, and trans-cultural, but sadly, that is not the norm.
One way you can determine if your church is targeting a particular crowd is by looking around. If there is a particular age group or gender lacking or completely missing, that’s not the age group your church is targeting. The problem exists in older churches and younger churches alike.
Look around your church this sunday. I was in a church for a while where everyone wore suits and ties. I used to tell them that if a person came into the service and heard us preaching about grace they would get mixed signals. We would be taking about freedom in Christ, but looking around they’d wonder why everyone was in uniform. The gospel transcends uniformity.
There are a lot of factors that are used to cater to different age groups, but most of them tend to reflect on the arts. Old people don’t like contemporary music, and younger people are bored with the traditional liturgy of older churches. Likewise, many ministries are geared to different age groups and sub-cultures.
Personally, I think that all the arts should remain contemporary. That doesn’t mean that they have to have drums on the stage, but they should try and keep the music, art, style, and fashion looking fresh. Though I’ve been to a few churches that were stylistically stuck in the 60’s, most people from any age group would agree that updating the paint and carpet is a good idea. Floral wallpaper and shag carpets have been outdated for years. Unless you’re banking on them coming back into fashion, it might be time to update the aesthetic. The principle is universal. Apart for a few classics that transcend culture, most arts need to be constantly updated.
“To over-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of their culture, but to under-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of the culture you come from.” – Tim Keller
I once had a friend say that he wanted to start a church that ministered to punks. Everything about the church would appeal to that sub-group: music, preaching, dress, etc. I asked him what he would do if someone who wasn’t punkish walked into a service. He admitted that they wouldn’t feel comfortable. This raises two major concerns. It’s a shame that a punk couldn’t feel comfortable in a generic church and we are following a trend that suggests if you don’t like what you’re getting at your church you could create your own brand. Church is not Burger King; you can’t have it your way.
Whatever we do, we need to consider what is lacking when the church is divided by targeting different groups. Discipleship is a part of the great commission, but it is lacking from many churches’ missiology and church polity.
Instead of worrying about being true to yourself, which is purely a secular notion, consider attempting being a church without barriers. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s something to strive for.
But there is a bigger question to ask when thinking of who the church is targeting…
Which is the quickest way to reach the family? Fathers? Mothers? Children?
Here’s an interesting experiment. Which group does your church spend most of their time, talents, and resources on? Chances are, youth ministries will generate the largest budget and reflects on the emphasis of many adults to provide a solid foundation for their children. However, all of the statistics suggest that these investments are not paying off. Read my reviews of Already Gone and You Lost Me for full explanations of what I mean. For decades the strategy has been to win the family by gaining ground with the kids, but this is not paying off.
Second to youth ministries, women’s ministries get a lot of attention and generate a buzz. Thanks to Beth Moore and a plethora of other women centered Bible studies, there is always something going on in the church. Yet for the last 40 years we have been losing ground on reaching families for the church.
All of the statistics for the past 20 years have been suggesting the same thing. If you want to win the family, you have to reach the father. So where are all the men’s ministries? From a cursory glance it would seem that the church is geared more toward women and children. A lot of men feel out of place in the church and small groups where they’re encouraged the share their feelings. It might be a good idea to reevaluate how we reach men.
I think that the church should be reaching the whole family. In order to do that, they must reach the father. Men are the core of their families. Wives are waiting for their husbands to take initiative, and children are looking to their fathers to set the example for spiritual things.
The moral of the story, if you want to win the family, you should try targeting the men in your community. Just a thought.