A common trap in the Church is a lack of focus. The late Zig Ziglar summed it up best: “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Yet that’s how the Church often approaches its call to fulfill the Great Commission. In a zeal to reach anyone churches attempt to speak to everyone and consequently connect with no one. Churches need focus, and that often starts with picking a mission field, a group of people that you are best-equipped to serve.
The concept is not without precedent and shows up in the synoptic Gospels:
• Matthew’s Gospel was written with a specific audience in mind: the Jews. As a Jew, Matthew knew the importance of scripture and prophecy in establishing authority, so he integrated those themes into his telling of Jesus’ ministry. This insider knowledge shaped the way Matthew conveyed the Gospel message to his mission field, the Jews.
• Mark had a different audience in mind. He was writing specifically to the Romans who were different in many ways than the Jews. Mark knew that Romans valued action and leadership as signs of authority, so rather than citing history and prophecy, Mark penned a fast-paced and action-packed narrative of Jesus’ ministry, making sure to demonstrate Jesus’ authority and leadership. Mark also told the Gospel story, but in a way that was meaningful to the Romans.
• Luke took yet a different tack. The Greeks were his chosen mission field, and he knew that they had a love for culture, beauty, and ideas. Luke therefore included those facets in his telling of the Gospel story. In doing so, Luke was masterfully able to captivate the inquiring Greek mind. Same Gospel but made relevant to a new audience.
As you can see, the three authors told the same Gospel story in three different ways, ways that resonated with their three different audiences, but they had to have a focus, a mission field, first. The mission field helped dictate how they presented the Gospel story. Please note, the synoptic gospelers did not change the Gospel message. Instead, they changed how the Gospel was presented so that it addressed the particular realities of each audience.
One critical note: selecting and embracing a mission field does not absolve a church of ministering to those who aren’t part of their mission field. The Gospel is for everyone and therefore no one who is seeking it should be turned away. When it comes to evangelism/outreach, however, a church should deploy its resources (time, talent, and treasure) with focus, while being willing to accept anyone who comes through the front door.
If focus means a well-defined mission field, the next logical question is how we define that mission field. Traditionally this kind of work is done using demographics: characteristics describing a people group, whether age, household income, education level, etc. And while all of these factors are important, they only tell part of the story. Let’s look at an example: American businesswoman, Ivanka Trump, and American stand-up comedian and actress, Amy Schumer. They are the same gender, both have high incomes, and both live in New York City. Both are married, and they are born within months of each other. We might think these two women have a lot in common. Of course they don’t, but demographers would lump them together.
That’s one of the key shortcomings of demographics – they tell some of the story but make some pretty big assumptions (namely, all members of a demographic group are the same). What we need is an additional layer of information. We need information that helps us understand what’s happening in people’s heads and hearts. As it turns out, this kind of information exists, and it’s called Psychographics. Psychographics also describe a person or people group but deal more with the intangibles: values, life goals, struggles, and world views, etc. Here are a few examples of psychographic statements:
• I am struggling to recover from financial distress or ruin.
• I feel lonely and disconnected in an increasingly connected world.
• I believe there must be more to life than material possessions.
• I have lost faith in the traditional pillars of society.
• I believe the old way of doing things is the better way of doing things.
• I believe it’s important to find new ways of doing things.
These kinds of statements start to shed some light on the motivations and reservations of your mission field, and it’s much easier to develop messages, programs, and offerings to people when you have this level of understanding. So we would encourage you to spend some time studying your mission field – not just their demographics, but their psychographics, too. Once we find our focus and know our focus just a bit better, we can better engage our mission field with the work of the Gospel, and bring the transforming love of Jesus Christ to those we are called to serve.
Sean Jecko is a marketing and communication professional that has spent the last 20 years helping organizations uncover and harness human insights. Sean discovered his passion for marketing while serving as Director of Communications at St. John’s, Tallahassee. He then transitioned into the secular world where he’s had the opportunity to work with businesses and brands that range from start-ups to fortune 50 companies (and many churches on the side). Sean is a cradle Anglican and preacher’s kid with a heart for Christ’s church. Sean and his wife, Christine, live in Durham, NC with their two children, two dogs…and two Jeeps.