Everybody targets a group. I think it’s a little misleading to suggest that it’s actually possible to preach and teach the gospel and just expect that a diverse set of people will come and hear. . . . I’m also a little unsure why you would say that targeting a group makes sense overseas, but not in America, as if America is uniform. Do the poor, addicted, orphan and widow or even ethnic minorities just show up because we are in the pulpit teaching and preaching? The call is to “go and make disciples of all nations (ethnos),” not stay in your pulpit and everything will sort itself out.

It is wrong to assume that “preaching the Gospel” = “preaching from a pulpit.” Going is implicit in preaching. Being in the pulpit is one form of preaching. Scripturally, however, preaching is synonymous with evangelism. Evangelism entails going.

It is true, by virtue of our finitude, we will target someone. I cannot preach the Gospel to all people at the same time. I must decide to walk up to one person or a group of people and open the Scriptures with them. I cannot go to another group at the same time I am going to this group. It is impossible.

You might consider that unfair to the person asking the question–as that is not exactly what he meant. Yet, I find that this over-arching truth of finitude helps contour the discussion on target groups. That’s why I mentioned what is obvious, but too often unheeded.

I agree with Tim Keller’s assessment that we are always drawing near to one culture and drawing away from another culture. My critique would rest on whether we should be content with excluding and embracing should determine a philosophy of ministry for an entire church.

Sure. There are people who enjoy jazz music to organ arrangement to acoustic guitar to electonica as their tastes for singing to the Most High. Sure. There are those who like to wear tighter jeans to sporting the sag to pastel chinos. Sure. There are those who prefer Latin to colloquial. Sure. There are those who communicate at a high level and those who like a little earth in their verbiage. Does all this mean that you should have a jazz-only service–or any mix of preferences? Could we not have a ministry under the auspices of a local church targets an affinity group: say, a Goth ministry on Friday nights? Could we not have a hipster Bible study on Monday afternoon? Sure. Under the umbrella of a local church.

How is this different than building a church around a target audience? Worlds. (1) It affirms the distinctions in culture, but does not compromise the multi-cultural dimension of the Babel-redeeming Gospel. (2) The affinity ministries disciple in such a way that diverse expressions of worship and devotion are not merely understood but celebrated. (3) The church gathered on Sunday would have Goths, hipsters, and jazz musicians relishing and enjoying each other’s fellowship around the Table of Fellowship and Reconciliation.

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  1. Thank you for clarifying much. May Jesus be lifted up and adored.

    “It is true, by virtue of our finitude, we will target someone.”
    Consciously or not, we are always “targeting.”

    I had a believer tell me, “My father always told me, ‘Never trust anyone who wears a suit.’ While you were speaking I kept telling myself,I know this man, I can trust him to tell me Bible truth.” It never crossed my mind that wearing a suit for the occasion would be an issue to anyone. Haha.

    The real issue is not if the issue exists. It’s if we will listen to God’s direction to our ministry.

    I think a case can be made that those who target consciously can more easily recognize when God’s Spirit draws people from outside their target audience… and they can consciously consider making changes. They can change the cultural trappings. They can widen or rethink who their target is. (Over the last 60 years some city churches changed their church culture; they made a transition to accompany the demographic changes of the churches’ neighborhood. Others moved to the suburbs. Other churches ceased to exist.)

    On the other hand, the church leadership that imagines it isn’t targeting may very well miss out on the changes necessary to make their church more culturally accessible. It’s not on their radar. They may very well see the need for affinity-type groups, but the underlying cultural presuppositions will not be examined, unless God gives them a wake up call.

    The NT Antioch church under God’s leadership made itself cultural relevant to Greeks. Can we even get a grasp on the huge cultural shift from a Hebrew culture format to a Greek format?

    Blessings.

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Less Hype. More Humility.

Please. Embedded in our consumeristic culture, there is the assumption that newer is better than older–though I prefer aged beef and cheddar to new. There is the assumption that grand and renovated and powerful is preferable to meek and lowly and weak.

The church often adopts this form of communicating in an effort to gather people into its doors. “God is doing awesome things here at Church _______.” The fact is that God is doing awesome things everyday and everywhere. He’s sustained your life. He’s given you sight and hearing and legs. And if you have none or only one of these, he’s still given you life and a mind to engage the world around you. Truly miraculous. What is more, is God not also doing something in the old, decrepit church that meets faithfully every Sunday? Is God not at work in the mundane? Is the changing of laundry and washing of dishes and working through an argument devoid of God’s presence?

I see so many churches trying to drum up excitement about the latest outreach or project, when what our culture needs is the staying power and sobriety of faithfulness in the ho-hum drudgery of going to a job you hate or a marriage that is contentious. What we need is not more hype, but more humility. More service and less heavy-handedness. We need more gentleness and less power grabs.

If we don’t, what then becomes of the senior citizen who is tired? What becomes of the baby who is sleeping? What becomes of the unemployed and outcast and burdened? They are forgotten. They are seen as less valuable because they aren’t producing the kind of energy requisite for assumed faithfulness to the disciples’ call.

In reality, we need less loud voices and red faces and sweaty brows and more silence and calmness and a deep well of contentment.

Idealism and Realism

One of the difficulties with living is when our ideals come crashing against the rock of reality. That is, I have a dream gets hosed down by the injustices of mediocrity and status quo.

I have been walking through the Core Values of our church plant, Christ the Redeemer, and we just got done walking through our first (and most vital) core value of Community. My wife was speaking with someone following our conversation on the topic of what Acts 2 models for the church by way of biblical community. We see people selling their possessions and giving to those who had a need. We see people welcoming others into the mess of their homes and being vulnerable with one another as they were learning together what it meant to follow Christ’s road to Calvary.

The response of the other mother my wife was speaking with was, “That seems awfully idealistic.” The truth is, it is idealistic. It is the goal for which we aim. Most communities of faith are content with merely showing up. But as Bruno Mars encouraged, we need to show up and show out. That is, the community of faith is not merely a body of people that gather, but they gather with a purpose. It is like halftime where they assess the team and seek to address weaknesses in their offense or defense and shoulder the load together. To accomplish an impossible goal. What is that goal other than displaying the beauty and majesty and wonder of the gracious God who loves the unloveable?

On full display in word and in deed, we see that the Christian community reflects how God enters into our messes and embraces us–in the midst of the stink. This idealism can only be reached by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit…in the very crucifixion of the flesh that seeks self-preservation. The life of faith is a flesh and bone reality that has scars and bruises…and fresh wounds to be bound up. Uncomfortable? Yes. Life giving? Yes.

The New Economics Will Be People

So I went to a coffee shop this morning and was struck by the utter efficiency they were churning out drinks. In fact the team lead said this much as encouragement to the six other workers behind the counter.

I walked in. Smiled at the barista. Was greeted with a blank stare as he continued to froth the milk and deliver the piping hot skinny latte with extra foam to the drive-thru. I walked to the register and was passed with nary a glance…even when the team lead said “Hello.” No she didn’t look at me, but made sure that her metric of greeting a guest in the first ten seconds was met. A box that is checked. That’s what I was. A large dark roast with no room for cream and sugar. And surely there was no saccharin here. There was utility and efficiency.

In all our pandering for growth our marketing of environment is nothing more than a marketing tool. The timers and grids for efficiency have crowded out the thing that matters. The only thing that matters in products.

You see, the products that are pushed are labeled as though they were made for you. In reality, the products being sold to you have (for the most part) been made for the manufacturer. People have merely become a means to the end of bigger, faster, better.

In the new economy, people will matter more.

They won’t matter because they need to matter to grow the business. Too often companies tell you that you’re important because they want your money. They don’t want to make a difference as much as they want their new car or luxury vacation.

I want to say this loud and clear. In the new economy, people will be the end in themselves. They will no longer be viewed as a metric or a number. In the new economy, mom and pop will be sought after. Because, after all, we all know that the verbiage of how you matter to company x is just verbiage. It’s merely eliciting a response for another end.

In the new economics, people will want to matter. They will flock to the place where they are known by name. And not just to tout the “community” of an establishment. Did you notice the subtlety of that one? No, people will know your name because they know you and you matter. Your name is not known just to brag that you matter and sell the belonging you too can have if you buy your next skinny latte with extra froth…hold the pandering.

We are not there yet because executives are still measuring. Measuring people. Yet, what the new economy will have to embrace is not a spreadsheet or a graph. They will be forced to embrace people. Not to grow their graph. But to grow their own soul.