7 Steps to Create Culturally-Relevant Ministry

May 09 2017

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!

About the Author


  • Dana Reed
    May 9, 2017 at 2:24 pm

    is this the same marketing plan Jesus implemented in John 4? Too bad there were no church growth consultants to help Our Savior meet the needs of the disciples who abandoned him. Just preach the gospel! It and it alone is relevant for saving souls. Corporate worship is not to win the lost but to feed the sheep. I find it interesting that none of these seven steps are found in Paul’s letters to Timothy. Guess we’ve improved on the wisdom of the apostles.

  • Tom Bostic
    May 10, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Great thoughts, thanks Jeff. My own struggle with cultural relativity isn’t maybe defining the culture, but more getting various cultures to bond in the community of faith. We are a very close-knit, conservative rural community–very independent of the rest of the county, but also very interdependent. For a community of only 2100, we still have our singular elementary school, high school, post office, independent grocery store, hardware store, etc. Most other small community have had to meld into the larger community around for most of those things, but not us. There is great good in that. But there is also a stuntedness (I know, I’m making up words) that comes with it too. The congregation I serve in many ways mirrors the community. We run consistently over 200 but not much. And getting “odd” people to assimilate is very difficult. If I count up the people who have come in, stayed a while, but didn’t find a place to truly fit here and moved on to other congregations, I would literally be more than twice the size.
    Surveys (like a recent one published in the Christian Standard) say I’m getting too old to be effective, that we won’t grow with me at the helm. To the contrary, I find that many young people come in, and comment that they really like my sermons. We are vibrantly involved in the community–Easter Egg Hunts, Trunk-or-Treat, school supply drives, food drives, Christmas Angel Tree projects, all would not happen if we didn’t initiate them, and carry them out. And younger people respond to that. I try to be relevant in my preaching and teaching material, try to hit the right topics but remain exegetically and biblically sound, I study the vernacular (that is almost an oxymoron, haha) I try to wear the right clothes, attend the right events to “see and be seen”–I think I’m doing this right. But how do I get 80 and 90 year olds to be open and accepting to 20 year olds, and vice-versa? How do I get the “greatest generation” to want to work, serve, and bond with the “goingest” generation? And again, vice-versa? This is so perplexing.
    I don’t know how you can particularly help. Not even sure why I wrote all of this, maybe just to vent a bit. We do need help, but what kind I don’t know. Maybe we have come to a zenith, maybe we are as big and as effective as we ever can or will be. Which I can accept I guess, if its true. But I wake up every day wondering what could be done to be more effective for His Kingdom. Complacency is not my strong suit; sitting idle and living with status quo is not really in me.
    Thanks for listening.

  • Gary Sweeten
    June 29, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Fantastic stuff. We certainly need this kind of help.


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