Creating Movements That Last: How Do You Determine a Ministry’s Target Audience?

Find God At Uni

A ministry’s “target audience” has usually been thought of in terms of a “demographic”. For example, we talk about youth, young adults or young families. The advantage of talking about these demographics:
1. We can assume that ministry approaches designed for these demographics will have broad relevance across our nation. E.g. a gospel presentation that is effective in one high school will probably be similarly effective in other similar high schools.
2. Transferable tools can be developed that work across these demographics;
3. Cultural changes that occur can be felt across these demographics.

Negatively, we don’t build movements among “demographics”. The missiological term for where we build movements is “people groups.” A “people group” is defined as a relationship network of people who share common cultural values/language/symbols, etc.

To illustrate, in Australia “young families” is a demographic. A people group is all the young families whose children attend the local primary school. There are going to be sub-groups within that people group (as there are in every relationship network) but there are enough “demographical similarities” to suggest that an approach that works within that people group will work with similar groups in other primary schools.

Another illustration is the demographic of “young adults.” University students in Australia are a strategic demographic. They share lots in common. But the “people group” is the students at Monash Uni or the students at Macquarie Uni. They are the ones in relationship with each other. Ministry approaches and tools that work at Monash are likely to work at Macquarie (and vice versa) with little modification. But the movements will be built in each location.

The implications of this for field ministries are huge.

Firstly, a movement needs to be built in a specific location. A field ministry can hypothesise about how to build movements among youth but until a movement is built at the local high school, it is all theory. This is the “flagship movement” kind of thinking.

Secondly, once a movement has been proven in one location then we are able to consider launching new movements elsewhere. The resources generated from one successful movement are the basis for launching the new movement. Sometimes leaders can also serve to catalyse movements in new locations by providing necessary expertise or coaching to those doing ministry in the new locations.

This second point is where we must work hard to hold two values in tension. Firstly, ministry leaders must be building a movement in a specific location. But this can be all consuming. I (Geoff) found leading Macquarie Uni took all my energy and didn’t leave me much space for thinking about how to launch on other campuses. Secondly, our ministry leaders can be scouting for or recruiting to new opportunities for building movements elsewhere. Some leaders have swung to this extreme, where they spend all their time networking or developing partnerships or launching ministries in different places, that they have failed to build a movement in one location, and so have failed to generate the resources to build movements anywhere. There will be no movements anywhere until there is a movement somewhere.

Thirdly, we need to discern what is the transferable element of our movement building in our demographic and what is specific to our people group. We want to develop transferable tools, resources or ministry approaches that “Contact-Connect-Build-Train-Send” within our demographic and across multiple people groups.

Fourthly, we need to evaluate whether a particular people group is able to generate a movement. A movement requires a flow of people through the “contact->connect->build->train->send” process so that movement is visible/obvious and consistent. How many people within the people group do we need to contact in order to find someone interested in finding out about Jesus? How many people who we share about Jesus with are likely to respond to the gospel? In relatively unresponsive populations, like Australia, we need to contact lots of people to find those who are open to connecting with Jesus. On campus, I identified that I didn’t want work among people groups with less than 1,000 members because I needed that many to have some confidence I would see people become Christians each semester/year. And campus is a fairly responsive demographic. So are youth and young families, which is why we tend to focus on them, but we need to make sure we identify people groups that are large enough to sustain movements over time.

Yours in Christ,

Geoff.

(Photo: Emma Horn, 2013).

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