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Demographic Evangelism

By Jim L. Wilson

When you distribute flyers for vacation Bible school, you go to neighborhoods with kids, not to retirement villages. When you are trying to attract Gen Xers, you put ads for special church concerts in the local newspaper.

Target evangelism is not an attempt to exclude anyone. Rather, it is a method that helps churches deal better with economic realities. Most churches do not have the resources to provide programs for every sociographic or generational group of people. If you can afford to minister to everyone, then do so. If you are working with a limited budget, however, then you must decide whom you will target with your message.

Sociographic Targeting

Percept (800-442-6277) can help a church define the sociographic groups in its ministry area. Using U.S. Census Bureau information, Percept provides a demographic breakdown of an area that includes age, income, population change, race, and what it calls "U.S. lifestyle segments."

By overlaying information gathered from its surveys on lifestyle segments, Percept projects people’s preferences in church programs, faith, worship, music, and advertising methods.

A church can ask for demographic reports according to zip codes, a specific radius around its building, or a specific area it has defined in the community. The package of information the church receives includes a description of how the data were gathered, an explanation of the characteristics of the U.S. lifestyle segments, and colored graphs for use on an overhead projector.

Case Studies

Churches that are working with demographic evangelism include the following:

The Newest Church in Marin, California. Charles Handren, who is working on starting a church in Marin, doesn’t yet have a name for the new church. But he and the sponsoring church, Hillside Church of Marin, have a clear picture of the ministry field. With the help of Percept’s Map and Compass programs, Handren knows what kind of people live in Marin, where they live, and what programs will most likely attract them to church.

Harvest Community Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dan Lewis used some other high-tech resources to learn about his target group. He started a ministry with Generation Xers in February, and the church is already averaging 140 in worship. Though Lewis gained some insight from the demographic materials he purchased, he believes that’s no replacement for getting to know people by knocking on their doors and living among them in a target area. Instead of mailing advertisements for the new church to a specific target group, Lewis has found it more cost efficient to do a saturation mailing. He has designed special mailers for Generation Xers.

Generational Targeting

One way to understand the people in a potential ministry field is to view them as members of a unique generation. People who lived through the Depression, for example, operate differently from people who came of age during the Vietnam conflict. And baby boomers have different goals and beliefs than recent college graduates who are just beginning their careers.

Christian publishing houses are producing resources to help churches get a handle on generational issues. Many of those resources are targeted for the following generations:

Bridgers. Thom Rainer, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism, and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, coined the word Bridgers in his book The Bridger Generation (Broadman & Holman, 800-233-1123) to describe the post-Xer generation. The post-Xers are the bridge to the 21st century, Rainer says.

A high percentage of Bridgers attend church, but a low percentage of them are making commitments to Christ. To encourage more commitments, Rainer believes churches need to put more emphasis on children and youth evangelism, not just youth programs. In addition to identifying the tendencies of this generation, Rainer describes what churches should do to be Bridger-friendly.

Generation X. Geno Robinson believes the key to understanding Gen Xers istoexamine their life development issues. But he also warns against making assumptions about individuals based upon trends of a generational group. In his book Intersecting Lives: Road Maps for Ministry with Young Adults (Willow City Press, 559-229-9533,ext. 234), Robinson explores the challenges and opportunities of ministry with young adults. Using case studies, he shows how churches can reach out to Gen Xers via big events, challenging discipleship courses, small groups, and choirs.

Boomers. The Family Friendly Church (Group Publishing 800-447-1070), by Ben Freudenburg and Rick Lawrence, argues that to reach Boomers and their families, churches must shift their emphasis to become family centered.

Builders. JimHughes works with the Senior Adult Ministry at Skillman Church of Christ (214-553-0790) in Dallas, Texas. He wrote How to Build a Senior Adult Ministry in a Church Environment to help a church minister with senior adults, not to them. His notebook includes how-to information, a cassette seminar, and a computer program to track ministry to seniors. It also offers case studies of churches that are putting seniors to work in peer-friendship evangelism, revivals, newcomer visitation, and integrating church visitors into church programs.

How to Hit the Target

Churches can use traditional means of advertising, such as direct mail, the newspaper, or Yellow Pages to reach a generational target with their message. However, there is another, more personal approach.

In metropolitan areas, two types of churches are emerging. The neighborhood church ministers to people within a certain radius of the church. A regional church draws members from all over the city. The congregation must thus rethink the notion of attracting people who live near the church. One way to deal with this is to target people in the neighborhoods of church members rather than in the area around the church.

The Mapping Center for Evangelism (888-627-7997) helps a church map out a strategy for reaching such neighbors. Its Harvest Tools CDs allow a church to redefine its ministry field as a geographic area around members’ homes rather than as a radius around the church building.

Each CD contains the names, addresses, and phone numbers of church members and their neighbors. With that tool, users can print neighborhood prayer lists, compile a cluster analysis that shows where their members live, and print demographic reports for each neighborhood.

Other ideas for reaching those around the church:

Prayer. Church members can use the prayer lists generated from Harvest Tools to become prayer captains in their neighborhoods. Keeney Dickenson, pastor, First Baptist Church, Eunice, New Mexico, (505-394-2568), developed a workbook titled Our Lord’s Life of Prayer to help Christians learn to pray like Jesus prayed so they can live as He lived. It includes an in-depth study of Jesus’ prayer life and some tools to help people organize their prayer life and keep track of prayer requests. The workbook also teaches Christians how to pray for nonbelieving neighbors, friends, and family members.

Food for the hungry. Canning Hunger (714-279-6570) is a strategy to cultivate relationships in a neighborhood by collecting canned foods for a hunger drive. This program helps feed the hungry, gives Christians reason to knock on their neighbors’ doors, and builds relationships.

A neighborhood prayer captain gathers the food, then returns the next month to thank neighbors for their contributions and to report on how much food the neighborhood collected.

While they are calling on neighbors, prayer captains can gather prayer needs.

Share the gospel. It’s nice to offer a gift to a neighbor who helps the church. The Jesus video (800-29-JESUS), which is a dramatic retelling of the Gospel of Luke, is a great gift as well as a nonthreatening way to present the gospel to a nonbeliever.

In March 1996, Campus Crusade for Christ hired Lawrence & Schiller, an independent marketing firm, to find out how effective its distribution of the Jesus video was in Syracuse, New York. The firm discovered that 96.2 percent of the people who saw the video encouraged Campus Crusade for Christ to keep showing it. "It’s worth the effort," people said.

The marketing firm also discovered that 67 percent of those who received a video watched it. The number of people in households who watched it averaged 3.65 people. At least 43 percent of the people who watched the video prayed the prayer at the end. Of those, 75 percent said it changed their lives, and 26 percent started attending church.

Neighborhood evangelism mobilizes church members to take spiritual responsibility for their neighbors. In the process, they build positive relationships, increase the visibility of the church’s prayer ministry, make a priority of talking to God about a person before talking to a person about God, help the community work on solving the hunger problem, and present the gospel in a nonthreatening way.

Welcome the Stranger

Though a church may select a target group to evangelize, it should also be ready to minister to whomever walks through its doors.

Timothy Urbany, a Sunday School teacher at Eastborough Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, found a unique way to challenge his young adult class to reach beyond its homogeneous group. Nearly all of the members of the class were white, middle class, and married with children. Urbany invited a Christian friend from work to come to his class to help him evaluate the potential for growth. She was a single, young black woman.

The woman arrived early and helped herself to a donut and some coffee. She participated in the discussion and did her best to make herself at home. No one spoke to her.

The next week, Urbany told the class who the young lady was and what her impressions were of the class. They were stunned that no one had reached out to the visitor. Since that time, the class has tried with some success to become more welcoming.

As Christians, welcoming all people should he a priority for its. We always need to be ready to share our faith with those inside and outside our target group.

Jim L. Wilson is senior pastor of Lighthouse Baptist Church of Seaside, California. This article first appeared in YOUR CHURCH, November/December 1998.

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