As we continue on with our look at church growth, I think it would be beneficial to review some basics of elementary communication to see if there is an application to growing a church, and of course I mean growing first in the sense of spiritual growth and then its natural result, growing in numbers. As an undergraduate, over 30 years ago, I studied communication, and the one thing that I can remember, perhaps more than any other thing that my professors taught was that the first rule of communication was to know your audience. Certainly you wouldn’t speak to your grandmother the way you might speak to your college-age friends. You wouldn’t address the President the way you’d address the guys on your bowling team, and you wouldn’t make a presentation to an audience of college professors in the same way you would to a group of elderly women.
This is actually more of an issue in churches than you might think, particularly when a congregation is diverse, for not all Peoples and backgrounds have the same frames of reference. When I started this blog, my idea was to comment of frames of reference that people have, and how they affect our view of the things around us. For example, when I have been teaching in church to a group of people who are mostly in their 50’s and 60’s, I might use as an example a cultural reference to a TV show, commercial or song from the 1960’s. If I used that same example to a group of people in their 20’s or 300’s, they would probably have no clue what I was talking about, and if I mentioned Lady Gaga to the older group, they would be clueless, as I am. (Just a name I heard on the radio this morning)
I have been strongly criticized in some comments on this series of posts because I have used some modern terms that come out of the world of communication such as “vision statement” and “rollout.” It seems that when some Christians see these terms used, they assume that I must be running some of a scam, entirely disregarding the message of Scripture and putting together a phony kind of church that is built on tricks and entertainment, containing no spiritual truth… You might ask why I used these terms to describe what went on instead of more traditional Biblical terms meaning the same thing. For example, I could have said that we ‘proclaimed our vision of the Body of Christ as exhortations to the flock to repent from their wicked ways and follow the Lord with faithfulness.’ I didn’t put it that way because who understand that other than preachers, seminary professors and old school Christians who only read King James? They are not my (here’s another one from communication) “Target audience.” Why are these fine folks not my target audience? Simple: They already know it all, and wouldn’t even consider what I am saying here!
Here are a couple of examples from the Bible: First, Jesus frequently used analogies relating to agriculture to communicate His message to the people. He did that because he was speaking to people who lived in first century Judea and the areas surrounding it who lived in an agrarian economy where the major production was in grapes used for wine-making, wheat used for bread making, fishing and the raising of sheep for food and wool. Do you suppose He would have used the same examples if the area was one that raised tomatoes and artichokes? Of course not; who would have understood all that sheep stuff? When we teach those passages today, we must explain it to modern-day Americans; Jesus didn’t have that problem because his audience knew exactly what He was talking about.
Consider the apostle Paul. Did he present the message in the same terms to Greeks as he did to Jews in Judea? Of course not; the Greeks didn’t know much of anything of the Jewish Scriptures. When Paul spoke to the Athenians on Mars Hill did he present the gospel like he had presented it everywhere else? No, he knew his audience! Consider the synoptic gospels: Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience, Mark to a Roman audience and Luke to a Greek audience. They all present the same exact message, but they do it in different ways…
In a nutshell, church growth comes down to one problem that leads to other problems which are really a subset of the first one: That main problem is how do we get our current congregations mature enough spiritually so that we can shift out target audience away from them and on to the lost who so desperately need to hear about Jesus Christ? If you are perceptive, you might realize that I just restated my TWWADI post to reach a different audience!
I have already described what we did to accomplish this. Our approach was in Vision rollout phases 1 and 2. First, in phase 1 we pointed them to the Great Commission and got their attention. In phase 2 we actively stepped up our educational efforts to teach them Scriptural application in daily life. The next step in the process was to shift the target audience for everyone from selfish things to reaching out to the lost, and that discussion begins tomorrow.