In my experiences of helping churches with strategic planning tasks – clarifying their mission, ideal disciple, values, vision and strategy – the most controversial part of the process has always been the possible choice of a target or focus group.
You can’t get very far into this topic before the objections begin to be voiced: “This isn’t Biblical,” “That would be favoring one group over another,” “God wants us to love everybody the same” and “God wants every age group well represented in every church.”
Let me first address the question of whether this conforms to Biblical principles and examples. There is some merit to the view that “God wants every age group well represented in each church.” A local church is a body which has and needs diverse “members.” A church is a family and families typically have three or four generations.
The Apostle John addresses “fathers,” “young men” and “dear children.” Titus was given certain subjects to teach “older men,” “older women,” “younger women,” and “young men.” The Apostle James condemned in no uncertain terms the favoring of the rich over the poor.
On the other hand, Old Testament prophets were usually given very specific national groups to share their message with and there clearly was an agreement (Galatians 2) between Paul and the “earlier” Apostles: Peter and company would major on reaching the Jews and Paul would target Gentiles. In the world of missiology we call these “comity agreements.”
Putting these principles together, I think we can conclude that it’s entirely possible that God might lead a church to target a particular demographic group and as long as equal love is shown towards any and all who walk in the door, pursuing this God-chosen group with passion is the right thing to do.
Having said that, here are some advantages to choosing a focus group:
- The process of defining such a group forces church leaders to think long and hard about what they are doing and why they are doing it.
I maintain that every church has an unintentional focus group if it doesn’t have an intentional focus group. Every church has a demographic that it is best equipped to reach; a people group who are most comfortable in their weekend services.
If this is not made conscious, the demographic which the church is best able to reach is simply the group which looks like the people who are already there. “Birds of a feather flock together.” Seniors attract seniors. Young families attract young families.
Even if a church wants to keep going after “the people who look like us,” it should still be a deliberate choice, not just an accident.
- The process of choosing such a group challenges all current church attendees to adapt themselves in love to people who need Christ.
If a church is full of seniors but wants to reach younger people (a common scenario), its well- meaning members need to face honestly what it’s going to take to succeed at this. Who actually likes our church? Can we change our music or our preaching style? Of course we can, but it’s going to take effort and sacrifice.
- The process of choosing a focus group helps a ministry to focus its energies and resources.
The church which is deliberately focused on a single demographic can hone in on such a people group in a way that the church which is “trying to reach everybody” can never do.
The process of talking and praying about focus groups is challenging, but it is a discussion that can result in good things for God’s glory and Christ’s gospel.