Paul spoke about being “all things to all men” (see 1 Cor. 9:22). His missionary journeys proved his ability to understand different people groups and adapt his message to meet them where they lived.
On the other hand, Paul considered himself called to be an "apostle to the Gentiles” (see Rom. 11:13). Sounds slightly targeted doesn’t it? How do we reconcile these two pursuits: to reach all and yet focus on only a segment?
Paul understood his strengths and his calling. Every church has strengths at reaching a “type” of people in its community. Though that might strike some as unjust, its truth defines both our strengths and the areas we need to grow.
Whether you are a church that is known for young families, old money, the upper class, the working class or the struggling class—whether you are known for deep followers, surface seekers, empty nesters or down-and-outers—there are tendencies as to whom you draw.
To better understand this, let’s look at two famous, masterful target marketers. Eminem is a rapper in his late-30s with several platinum albums. In America, if you asked anyone age 15 to 30 who Eminem was, you’d get more than a 90 percent familiarity rate. Eminem is extremely targeted and has almost fully saturated his young, pop-culture target.
As a result, everything he does is extremely aimed at the values of a decade’s culture and style. If you’re 65 and know who he is, odds are you don’t like him. He does not care. You are not his target. He dresses young and angrily, and he raps young and angrily. Not surprisingly, then, he appeals to the young and angry.
Josh Groban, on the other hand, is in his early-30s and sings with operatic undertones. Despite his youth, he is just as likely to have 60-year-old women listening to his music as he is a 16-year-old. He wears linen suits or nice jeans with a wool turtleneck. He sings songs of love and inspiration.
He will never reach a 90 percent familiarity rate with any one group but does well by spreading his style thin to reach a little of a lot. This is in juxtaposition to Eminem, who reaches a lot of a little. Both sell millions of records, but both have different target audiences.
Many thriving churches today have committed to specific people groups (targets) and styles by which they will pursue them. Some succeed with a wider range—targeting more like Groban—but they must maintain an exhaustingly extraordinary level of ministry to pull it off. After all, Groban wouldn’t be able to have such a wide appeal if he didn’t have one of the greatest voices of all time. Trying to serve all people at once when you are understaffed and under-resourced is enough to put most churches under. It’s harder to appeal to a wide range of people. Eminem doesn’t have Groban’s voice; he just knows which buttons to push. Remind you of any churches?
It’s often easier to reach people with common values than it is to attempt to relate to all people. Numerical growth is often the result of ministers committing to whom they are going to reach and developing an attractive style around it. That’s why even a young, untested church can find numerical success—its greatest talent is knowing the values of a specific people group.
If your church has tried to reach everyone, don’t be upset with the church that targets. Chances are, in your pursuit to reach all, you’ve been more successful in reaching a certain some. You may just not recognize who they are yet. And in your quest to reach more in His name, be like Paul, becoming all things to reach all, but knowing deep down whom God has called you to reach.
Richard L. Reising is an author, speaker and recognized expert on church marketing and branding. Learn more at beyondrelevance.com. In what’s often been referred to as “required reading for every pastor in America,” Reising lays down the basics of ChurchMarketing 101. Released in 2006, this timeless resource remains prophetic in preparing the church for greater growth.