Church planting consultants went through an era where they strongly targeted particular socio-economic demographics, like a marketing company would. In the 1990s, the gold mine for a new church plant was the suburban young family. Planters were told, “they’re wanting to get their kids back in church and they’ll grow into wealth.” Sheesh.
I think a lot of pastors (myself included) were sickened by this approach as it didn’t ever factor God’s work God’s way, and it was far, far removed from the wonderful “every tribe and tongue and nation” in God’s Kingdom.
Still, I think demographic analysis can play a role in MHP strategy. Not socio economic demographics, but spiritual demographics.
Our church targets two primary spiritual demographics:
1) Unchurched/dechurched or skeptical of the whole thing. We launched to create a welcoming environment for seekers and skeptics who don’t think they’ll like church. We’re not really a typical “seeker” church, but we’re passionate about radically welcoming unchurched people and presenting a clear, tangible message of the Gospel to as many seekers and skeptics as we can. In our history, we have many folks who came kicking and screaming on the arm of a spouse, or came curious, or deeply hungry for something they can’t describe. Many of them have discovered Christ and are now in our core. A frequent responses we receive from seeking guests, “you guys are more normal than I thought you’d be.” It took a while to take that as a compliment, but it means we’re hitting our target. As long as we’re around, we’ll be passionate and intentional about reaching seekers and skeptics.
2) passionate followers of Christ. If you’re a “hands and feet” type of follower of Christ, you’ll love our church and we’d love to have you. I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend at pastor conferences lately – it has become cool to knock Christians. Some platform speakers brag that they “don’t like hanging out with Christians.” Really? You don’t like spending time with your wife? You don’t like your own company? Come on now. I get what these guys are saying – they don’t want to live in a Christian bubble. I don’t either. And neither do my Christian friends. But the fact remains, our church is strong and vibrant because of mature, active, love driven Christians and I’ll take as many of them as I can get.
This demographic analysis informs every piece of Sunday communication. We don’t lower the bar or simplify the message, but we intentionally communicate to both of these groups and we intentionally welcome both equally. We craft our sermon language to speak specifically to these two groups, sometimes subtly, most times overtly: “If you’re a follower of Christ…..(fill in sermon content here), but if you’re not sure what you believe and you’re looking into the claims of Christ….” Its amazing how many times I get thanked by skeptics for “including me” in the message.
Incidentally, we don’t attract passive Christians, partly because we’re a portable church and partly because we frequently say, “we don’t attract passive Christians who won’t serve and won’t roll up their sleeves to love messy people.”
So by attracting and repelling, we end up with a church that we all love to come to. Our Christians love it because they get deep fellowship with Christians who want to grow. Our seekers and skeptics love it because they are genuinely welcomed and part of the community and they’re not judged for their questions and objections.
Our Sunday attendance health indicator: at least 30% unchurched people. Are we reaching one of our core demographics? Are our Christians loving with hands and feet? Admittedly, 30% is an arbitrary number and we cannot control it, but naming a percentage helps us determine how healthy our church is. (yeah, yeah, we have many indicators. this is one of them.)
Socio economic demographics? Bah! But spiritual demographics have helped ensure that we’re healthy and doing what God wants us to do.