Jeffrey Derico, PhD
An astounding 71% of the ministers who participated in the Center for Church Leadership’s 2016 State of the Ministry survey identified “Creating culturally-relevant ministry” as a leadership challenge. The implications of this statistic are far-reaching, representing a serious threat to the short- and long-term success of both the churches and the ministers.
This constant struggle for relevance leads ministers to experience anxiety and frustration and it stands as a significant barrier to the church’s ability to effectively spread the gospel. Fortunately, there is a systematic process that you and your ministry leaders can follow to create environments, messages, and ministries that are sure to resonate powerfully with minds and hearts.
1. Identify neighborhoods
Compile a list of names and home addresses of every person who has attended your church in the last three years. Group the list by zip code and use batchgeo or similar service to plot the addresses on a map. Your church’s neighborhoods consist of every community in which even a single church member lives, with priority given to the area immediately surrounding your church and extending outward.
2. Build a profile
Drill down to learn about the people – and particularly the non-believers – who live in your church’s neighborhoods. Partner with Percept Group or a similar organization to conduct a demographic study for each zip code on your list. Review the data and use that information to develop a very specific profile that defines your church’s primary target audience. Earn bonus points by giving that profile a name.
3. Define the culture
Identify, define, and document the prevailing behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, priorities, tendencies, and needs of your target audience. The demographic study conducted in the previous step will provide some information but it is critical to form focus groups in order to fully understand how your target audience views, experiences, interprets, and responds to every aspect of your church and individual ministries.
4. Practice fluency
Learn to literally and metaphorically speak your primary target audience’s language. Eliminate any unnecessary jargon, images, and practices that confuse, distract, or alienate your target audience and make it a priority to strategically convey messages in ways that they naturally understand and embrace. Build open feedback channels and use your focus groups to identify and address disconnects.
5. Develop plans
Craft an overarching plan for the church as a whole as well as a plan for every individual ministry. Each plan should identify specific and measurable outcomes, strategies that will be employed, resources required to execute each strategy, project timelines, and an explanation of how each part of the plan is informed by the unique values, perspectives, and needs of your primary target audience.
6. Strengthen resolve
Prepare for the changes that will be required in order to bring your church’s decision-making, resource allocation, communication strategies, physical environment, and programming into alignment with your newly defined target audience. Partner with your leaders to identify potential hurdles, build personal ownership, and strengthen resolve to persevere in the face of the inevitable resistance and obstacles.
7. Model relevance
Execute your plans. Prove your church’s relevance by meeting the real physical, relational, emotional, and spiritual needs of lost people in your neighborhoods. Demonstrate your church’s relevance by the gospel message being shared with neighbors, coworkers, and family members. Show your church’s relevance by providing a welcoming and comfortable place for your target audience to encounter God.
You can infuse new life, excitement, and purpose in your church. You can enhance your church’s value, credibility, and influence in your community. You can build your church’s reputation as a source of help, hope, and hospitality. Start today by applying the Seven Steps to Create Culturally-Relevant Ministry!