Knowing Whom You Can Best Reach
John 1:41) [GW] Andrew at once found his brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).
Matthew 9:10) [GW] Later Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus and his disciples.
A casual reading of the New Testament will show that the Gospel spread primarily through relationships.
- As soon as Andrew heard about Christ he went and told his brother, Simon Peter.
- Philip immediately contacted a friend, Nathaniel.
- Matthew, a tax collector, held an evangelistic dinner party for other tax collectors.
- The woman at the well told everyone in her village about Christ.
The list goes on and on.
Pastor Warren writes, “I believe the most effective evangelistic strategy is to first try to reach those with whom you already have something in common. After you’ve discovered all the possible target groups in your community, which group should you focus on first? The answer is to go after those you are most likely to reach.”
Rick believes every church is best suited to reach certain types of people. Our church will have an easier time reaching some kinds of people, and more difficulty reaching other kinds of people. He adds that there are some kinds of people we’ll never reach because they require a completely different sort of ministry than you can provide.
Many factors cause people to be resistant to attending our church:
- Theological barriers.
- Relational barriers.
- Emotional barriers.
- Lifestyle barriers.
- Cultural barriers.
He teaches that the people our church is most likely to reach are those who match the existing culture of our church.
Who Already Attends Our Church?
Whatever type of people we already have is the same type we are most likely to attract more of. It’s unlikely that our church will attract, and keep, many people who are very different from those who already attend.
The first question visitors subconsciously ask isn’t a religious one, but a cultural one. They want to know if anyone attends who are like them:
- Retired couple.
- Middle-aged couple.
- College-aged individuals.
- Young parents.
- Military individuals.
What Kind of Leaders Do We Have?
The 2nd question to ask is “What is the cultural background and personality of our church leadership?” The personal characteristics of our leadership can have enormous impact on our church’s ministry. Many studies have shown that the number one reason people choose a church is because they identify with the pastor. Rick tells us, “The pastor does not attract first-time visitors, but he is a major reason they come back.” When people identify with the pastor they are far more likely to return.
As a pastor I need to ask myself, “What kind of person am I? What is my cultural background? What kind of people do I naturally relate to?”
Pastor Warren deeply believes that God has uniquely called and shaped each of us in different ways to reach different types of people. He believes that if God has called me to ministry, then who and what I am must also be a part of that plan. I minister through the personality God gave me. God shaped me for a purpose.
Two principles, as a pastor, to remember when seeking to discern our target:
- We’ll best reach those I relate to.
- I’ll attract who I am, not who I want.
In order to attract others who don’t necessarily relate to me, we’ll have to keep others in our church visible. When Rick started his church he was 26 years old. He couldn’t attract anyone over 45 years old to Saddleback. He eventually had to hire older staff in order to attract older people. Now that he’s middle-aged he has to hire younger staff to attract younger adults. We’re going to have to get Jason, Derek, Lexi, and other younger adults to do more as we go along.
NOTE: Rick points out that some pastors have what he refers to as a “missionary” gift. This is a special gift from the Holy Spirit to minister cross-culturally. Paul was a “Hebrew of Hebrews” [Phil. 3:5], but he was called to plant Gentile churches. Rick has seen some pastors raised in rural areas have an effective ministry in the inner city. He’s also seen some southern-born pastors who have been very effective in northeastern cities. He insists that they pastors are the exception, not the rule.
Explosive growth occurs when the type of people in the community match the type of people that are already in the church, and they both match the type of person the pastor is.
NOTE: The “community” refers to our target group, not the entire community.
Rick Warren believes there are many parts of our country where he would completely fail as a pastor because he’d never match the culture. He believes God made him to minister exactly where he is, and the changed lives in his church demonstrate that.
What If Our Church Doesn’t Match Our Community?
Build on our strengths: We must not try to be something we’re not. If our church is made up of primarily senior citizens then that’s the group we should target. We shouldn’t try to target a young adult community.
NOTE: We have our share of older adults, including me. But, we also have middle-aged adults, and younger adults, and college-aged adults. We have a wide variety of ages in our small congregation. Our trick will be to involve the various ages of those in our church in ministries to their subsequent groups of new attenders.
Reinvent our congregation: This refers to intentionally changing the makeup of our church in order to match a new target. We would completely replace all the old programs, structures, and worship styles with new ones.
Rick doesn’t advise this. He mentions it’s a very painful process and may take many years. People will leave the church due to the enormous, inevitable conflicts.
NOTE: Good news! We don’t have to change much, because we’re not that structured. This one doesn’t really fit us. There are a lot of people in Council Bluffs that match the kind of people we are.
Start new congregations: This is the method Rick recommends.
- Start another service with a different style of worship.
- Start a mission outreach in a different building with the intention of it becoming a new church down the road.
Recognizing Spiritual Receptivity In Our Community:
Matthew 13:18-23) “Listen, then, and learn what the parable of the sower means.
19) Those who hear the message about the Kingdom but do not understand it are like the seeds that fell along the path. The Evil One comes and snatches away what was sown in them.
20) The seeds that fell on rocky ground stand for those who receive the message gladly as soon as they hear it.
21) But it does not sink deep into them, and they don’t last long. So when trouble or persecution comes because of the message, they give up at once.
22) The seeds that fell among thorn bushes stand for those who hear the message; but the worries about this life and the love for riches choke the message, and they don’t bear fruit.
23) And the seeds sown in the good soil stand for those who hear the message and understand it: they bear fruit, some as much as one hundred, others sixty, and others thirty.”
The People Who Might Possibly Be Most Receptive:
- Second time visitors to the church.
- Close friends and relatives of new converts.
- People going through a divorce.
- Those who feel their need for a recovery program.
- First-time parents.
- The terminally ill and their families.
- Couples with major marriage problems.
- Parents with problem children.
- Recently unemployed or those with major financial problems.
- New residents in the community.
Rick says, “God uses both change and pain to make people receptive to the Gospel.”
Another quote from Pastor Warren, “Growing churches focus on reaching receptive people. Nongrowing churches focus on reenlisting enactive people.”
Walk of Grace Chapel, Council Bluffs Church