Should a church have a target audience? In working with churches, there is no other question that causes more disagreement and emotion. The idea of a defined target audience, or target individual, is derived from a marketing concept called an “Avatar.” No, this is not based on James Cameron’s smash hit from a few years back, but it is an imaginary person that is given a number of characteristics assigned to him or her.
At a baseline, this avatar is assigned a marital status, number of children, age, race, education, and salary range. At the extreme, they are assigned very specific personality traits and likes/dislikes: favorite book, TV show, movie, and quote to job satisfaction, type of car, favorite food, and level of athleticism. I’m sure some organizations go even deeper and more obscure that what I’m familiar with.
Why does an organization go to all this trouble over an imaginary person? Because it helps them focus. It is a tool that helps them identify the bullseye of who they are trying to woo with their product, and to compare whether organizational efforts and output are hitting the target or not. For instance, if an organization has a 30-year-old man, who likes to watch football and his favorite restaurant is Buffalo Wild Wings, it will be clear they have missed the mark if they launch an advertising campaign with pastel colors and pictures of a group of friends around a scrapbooking table.
For many in the church world, the idea of an avatar, or more palatable, a target individual can seem very disconcerting. A process that identifies a single person that a church is targeting feels contrary to the gospel. After all, we are called to show the good news of Jesus with “All” people, and not one target individual.
This assertion is 100% true, and the process of identifying a target individual can feel like one of the most unspiritual exercises that church leadership can go through, but I want you to consider that identifying a target individual can actually be one of the most SPIRITUAL exercises a church leadership team can go through.
I believe this because I’ve seen how having a clearly defined target individual makes churches more effective, and as leadership of the church, it is your spiritual responsibility to do everything you can to lead the church to be as effective as possible of connecting people to Jesus and making disciples.
The characteristics of a target individual should be based on the unique mission (the WHY) of each church. If it is part of the WHY of the church to minister to young families, then that informs that this target individual is part of a young family. Connecting a target individual to the mission only positions the church and its leadership team to make a greater impact.
There are 3 ways having a target individual makes a church more effective:
1) It Focuses Your Decisions
Making decisions in a team context can be challenging because each person brings in their individual perspectives, experiences, and preferences. Overall, that can be a pretty good thing, but it requires a defined target to keep the conversation from running amok. Take a simple flyer advertising Christmas Eve Service as an example: If there is no target, how do you determine whether the look of that ad is festive or classical? This decision cannot be made because one or two people want the festive look and they just won’t let it go. There has to be an understood focal point to help this decision be informed and effective.
Just imagine how much more cohesive your team would be if there was a clear target to aim for. When there is that target, decisions become focused not on what the person in the room wants, but what they think the person your church is going after would want. One of the great surprises about making decisions with a target individual in mind is that you don’t just connect to people that are like that individual. In fact, you will reach more people than you do now because you make more effective and informed decisions that make the church better.
2) It Focuses Your Finances
I’ve heard some wild stories out there about churches that are just loaded with cash and they can do whatever they want without having to consider impact on the financial health of the church, but for most church leaders they live in the real world where finances are tight and tough choices must be made.
When a church has a target individual it has a guide to help make some of these tough financial choices. One big fallacy a church can fall into is to feel like every ministry has the same role in accomplishing the mission of the church and that it’s only fair that each ministry or department are equally staffed and financed.
This may sound harsh, but some ministries play a bigger role in achieving a churches WHY than others. The way you know this is by determining your target individual. If that individual has three kids in elementary school, then children’s ministry should be financed differently than the college ministry. This doesn’t mean college ministry isn’t valued, but when the financial pie is small you must be strategic on how those pieces will be distributed.
3) It Focuses Your Energy
Similar to making tough decisions about finances, teams must make tough decisions about how they will spend their energy. One thing that is certain, there will always be people vying for the energy and attention of their pastors. Some demands you cannot say no to, nor can you control. There are, however, other pressures and even opportunities that present themselves that force leaders to choose how they will spend their energy.
Here’s another truth, no matter how many opportunities and demands are presented, there are still only 24 hours in a day. I wish it were so, that when a new opportunity or need is presented that another 3 hours of the day would come along with it, but it doesn’t. Also, more opportunities do not mean your family needs you less or you need less time for yourself. Many leaders make the fatal error of trading the energy of an opportunity with the attention to their family and their own spiritual renewal.
Quite possibly the most difficult thing to do is say “no” to an opportunity or need that is out there, but sometimes “no” has to be the answer. Having a target individual helps a leadership team know how to spend their time and energy. As mentioned before, a target individual is created on the foundation of the mission of the church. If this is clearly defined, then leaders have a practical way of both deciding how they spend their energy and evaluate whether they currently are using the limited time and energy wisely.
I recognize this is a topic that is uncomfortable for some, but great leadership requires stepping into those situations that aren’t easy because doing so means the church will impact more lives. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Please comment on this post and let’s all collaborate on how our churches can make a greater impact.
If you or your church need help in identifying your WHY, or taking the steps needed to discover your mission, vision, values, and target individual, The WHYCollective is here to help. Please contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a free 30 minute consultation.