I’ve never been big on target groups. I understand the idea of focusing your efforts, but the idea of target groups feels too much like a business strategy, and seems to exclude those who fall outside of the target. We all want to see our ministry grow, but we can’t rely on business practices to get us there. We need to create a culture of growth in our churches.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that target groups are wrong, but they certainly put the focus on quantitative growth — on numbers and demographics. Our focus needs to be on encouraging people to grow deeper, because deep people will impact the world around them. Healthy disciples make disciples, and discipling people (not getting people to church) was the command of Jesus to his followers.
The heart of the Gospel is relationship: first, our relationship with God, and second, how that relationship affects every other relationship we have from family to friends to neighbors and even enemies. In order to build a culture of growth, we first have to define our relationships. What I mean by this is that we need to label the different levels of intimacy and commitment in people’s relationship with the church. This isn’t a marketing ploy, we do it all the time. We have acquaintences, friends, close friends, and best friends. If you’re married, you started as friends, then grew to close friends, to boyfriend/girlfriend, then fiancé, and then spouse. As relationships grow, the level of intimacy shared deepens and so the level of commitment to the relationship grows. In the church, we need to recognize this and understand it so we can encourage and equip people to grow in relationship with God and with one another.
In our fellowship, we define these different levels of relationship as community, crowd, congregation, committed, and core. The community are those who might recognize the name of the church, but honestly, they don’t know us from a hole in the ground and never attend services. The crowd are those who might attend an event or will come to services on Christmas and Easter. The congregation are those who are relatively connected with the fellowship, have a few friends among our number and attend services fairly regularly. Those who are committed want to be a part of the mission of the church; they know us and what we’re about, they attend regularly and are willing to participate and serve to make things happen. The core are the leaders, those who are all-in and will make sacrifices to serve in the name of Jesus.
We try to structure things to encourage movement. We hold events to make connections with the community and get them familiar with us so that they might be willing to move into the crowd as they connect at an event or in service. We want to put ourselves in position to make a connection and begin to build a relationship with people we don’t know. Our membership class, along with three other classes, are designed to connect with the crowd and help them understand what we’re all about and how God intends for them to live in community for a greater purpose. We also try to lay out expectations of membership and what they can expect as they move forward — removing the barrier of “fear of the unknown.” As people do begin to grow the number of classes become fewer and the number of ministry opportunities grows, both in number and level of investment. The message is that we need to grow, and as we do that we will become more obedient and balanced in regard to receiving and serving.
Through education, opportunities, and example, we are trying to build a culture of growth … qualitative growth. As our people grow in knowledge, wisdom, and have more experiences with God, they will bear a brighter, bolder witness in the world around them. Everything in our corporate church structure holds out the expectation that we will “Look after [the needy] in their distress and keep ourselves from being polluted by the world;” that we will follow Jesus into abundant life and not just find a comfortable spot to sit and settle.
Expectations and accountability are fair and helpful. They may also chase some people away, so don’t be surprised if your church gets a little smaller at first. Our Father is the gardener and prunes the vine of the church so it can be more fruitful. Our charge is not to bear fruit, that is the result of our obedience to the command to abide in Christ. We need to structure ourselves to teach people how to abide in Him. The fruit will follow. And as our churches grow deep, we will begin to see them impacting our communities. As people begin to see the infinite value of life in Christ and fellowship in the church, the church will grow. But people won’t just go there on their own. They need to be led. Set your course, and lead on.