Targeting Your Audience
By Carl Jones Jr.
The days of serving “everyone” are long gone. Who is everyone, anyway? The 60-year- old physician, the 19-year-old single mother? The mechanic? The teacher? It’s obvious to most of us that there are many types of people in the world, many of whom have differ radically on worldviews, education levels, life experiences, careers, family situations, and economic realities. Yet why do so many churches insist on trying to be everything to everyone? There is no everyone–only individual people.
Reaching one person at a time
In a perfect world, we would tailor our sermons, programs, ministries, and marketing to one person at a time. Everything would be specific to them. If your target audience was Tom Peterson at 124 Oak Park Lane, you would mold everything you did to fit just Tom. In reality, no church (or multi-national corporation for that matter) has the resources to accomplish this. The next best approach is to divide the universe of potential church members into manageable segments. A segment is a group of people who share one or more like characteristic. In segmenting your audience, you still get many advantages of the one-to-one approach, while also benefiting from economies of scale. In other words, you can reach lots of Toms with far fewer resources than it would take to reach every Tom, Dick, and Harry. This is because Dick and Harry are nothing like Tom and serving them would require many more resources than you could possibly marshal.
Important note: I’m not suggesting that your congregants not invite Dick or Harry to church. By all means they should invite everyone who has an interest. Rather, I’m suggesting that by focusing your overall communications strategy on Tom, i.e. your target market, you will likely bring in 5 “Toms” for every 1 “Tom, Dick, and Harry” you would have brought in using the one-size-fits-all approach most churches employ.
How to reach Tom
Segmenting can be done in lots of ways. You can identify a few demographic characteristics to target such as age, education level, or neighborhood. You can identify and target people who share one or two similar “psychographic” characteristics such as worldview, political ideology, or attitude towards God. You can identify and target people with specific behavioral characteristics such as those who attend church sporadically, those who just bought a new home within 5 miles of your church, or those who enjoy riding motorcycles. If your market is big enough, you can even combine some of these characteristics to, for example, target all 20-something, politically liberal, motorcycle riders. The goal of segmenting is to identify a group that is small enough to have at least a few characteristics in common but large enough to justify your existence and provide the “economies of scale” I discussed above.
Develop a profile
Profiling isn’t just for the FBI. Churches that are good at marketing tend to have a profile—a snapshot into the life and mind—of their target group. For example, Saddleback Church has Saddleback Sam, the skeptical, 30-something, sleep-in-on Sundays, church-is-full-of-Bible-bangers unchurched man in Lake Forest, California (this is an example of using both “psychographic” and “demographic” segmenting). Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback, even developed a graphic that features a picture of Saddleback Sam and describes his characteristics. This is a great idea. In doing so, Saddleback knows exactly who it is focused on. Like an FBI agent trying desperately to find a specific suspect, your profile will guide you to the seekers and skeptics in your community. (Of course when you find your “suspect,” you will invite her to church not throw her behind bars.)
If you don’t know where to start in developing a profile, think of your current congregation. What are they like? Is there a cluster of one or two age brackets? Do you attract a lot of single parents? Is yours the first church many of your members ever attended? Chances are, you are more likely to attract people similar to those you already have than you are to attract people unlike your current members. Of course, if the overwhelming majority of your congregation consists of lifelong church members, you’ll want to look to the real world for guidance on who to reach. But, fortunately, many churches have a decent number of “baby Christians.” Learn about them and why they chose you. Then target others like them.
Know your market
After you’ve defined your audience and developed a viable segment to pursue, you need to take another step. You must get to know all you can about your market segment. Take a page from the Apostle Paul’s visit to Athens and learn all you can about the seekers God has called you to reach. Learn to speak their cultural language. Spend some time soaking in the real world. Hold meetings at Starbucks, watch an hour or two of MTV now and then, and reference American Idol in your marketing materials. Only by cultivating a comprehensive understanding of your market can you begin to understand what they’re looking for in a church.
Some churches scoff at adopting a market orientation. They claim God has called them to reach all people for him. I pray they’re right– and extremely wealthy– but I fear otherwise. When I survey the modern church world, I see two general camps emerging. In the first camp are successful churches that know clearly who their target market is. They have a laser-like focus on reaching them. They are willing to adapt to changes in the market while not sacrificing one iota of Biblical truth.
In the second camp are what I call fortress churches. These churches are going to continue doing what they’ve always done regardless of what’s happening outside their walls. They have an internal, not external, orientation. They fear leaving the safety of their walls. Eventually they will realize people are no longer listening to their tired, self righteous gibberish. Even then they may rationalize their ineptitude by claiming they are somehow building deeper Christians than other churches. Eventually these churches will fade into oblivion, taking with them the handful of members they still have at that point. Don’t worry about these spiritually arrogant big-mouths, their obsolescence speaks louder than anything they could ever say.
More than publicity
One final word on segmenting: Effectively reaching your market goes way beyond publicity. To be successful, you must take a big picture approach and ensure all your ministries, events, services, and activities are aiming towards your Saddleback Sam. It’s not enough to merely appeal to him with relevant and creative communication materials; you must fulfill the implicit pledge made in those materials by delivering on what you promised.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”