Do Churches Target People?
This question is relevant today because a group of evangelicals known as the emerging church have drawn a good deal of heat for targeting the twentysomething generation. One of the primary charges against emerging church congregations is that they draw only type of person, typically the goatee-wearing, emo-band listening, coffee-shop inhabiting dude. Emerging churches target this kind of dude and draw this kind of dude. They fail to draw the full spectrum of Christian people, thus forming a church that is not representative of the body of Christ and that actually divides Christians based on a needlessly focused style and tone.
What I want to argue in answering my own question is this: all churches contextualize, or tailor their message and target a group, whether they intend to or not. I had a stimulating conversation with a buddy recently in which I realized that many Christians who are not of the emerging church variety do not know that they themselves contextualize the gospel. This shocked me. It's crazy to think that we don't all contextualize the gospel in our own setting. We do so in numerous ways. We construct a certain type of building that appeals to a certain type of people (perhaps a broad group, but it still will not appeal aesthetically to everybody). Our services have a certain tone or tenor to them--some churches emphasize joy, others solemnity--and this accordingly draws those who most like either tenor. We dress in a certain way, and that attracts people who dress like us. Generally, a pastor who wears jeans will draw people who like wearing jeans on Sunday. A pastor who wears a three-piece suit will draw those wearing a three-piece suit. Neither style of dress is right, and neither is wrong. But both reflect choices we make that will in turn affect the choices that churchgoers make.
We could go on in making this point. Churches may say that they are not contextualizing, but if they preach a 70-minute sermon, they are going to draw a certain type of churchgoer, one who places a huge amount of weight on a meaty sermon. Other churches who are equally faithful to preach the whole council of God will preach for thirty minutes, thus styling themselves differently. Neither church is wrong to do so. Both are faithfully declaring the gospel of God. But they are definitively marking themselves by the length of their preaching. And on style--churches who favor a high style, with big words and poetic speech, will draw people who appreciate such style. On the other hand, churches who prefer a more plainspoken approach will tend to draw a different group, those who favor a more common style. Neither style has the biblical copyright. If both preach the truth of God, then both are faithful.
I'm going to continue this tomorrow. For now, though, think about my question. Who does your church target? Had you ever realized that it did?
Perhaps we'll see that contextualization of the gospel is not limited to the soul-patched and scruffy.