Seth Goodin, marketer of the century, wrote a post recently called “Six Audiences” and briefly discussed how focusing on each one changes a company’s approach. You can read that post here. Back in 1998 we did some commercials at GW when I met with the marketing department for WSMV they asked me: “Now, who is your audience...” When I answered “Everybody” they had a hard time grasping the reality of that truth. We were not looking for a specific demographic but to reach all with the Word - the “whosoever will” crowd as Paul would say it.
But over the years I’ve noticed that leadership in many churches tend to have a specific spoken, or more often, unspoken target audience to please. Here are Goodin’s six audiences and a line about each and the relationship they have to the organization.
- The sales force: Many companies are sales-force driven. When the salesforce is happy, the CEO is happy.
- the stock market: Others organizations are driven by the daily (or hourly) stock price. The company is run to please Wall Street.
- potential new customers: You can choose to focus your best work on attracting new customers. This evangelical growth model is going to change your pricing and your product development efforts too.
- existing customers: Contrast this with the organization that puts a priority on delighting existing customers. This will refocus a non-profit on doing work that gets existing donors to up their commitment, for example. It changes the way you talk (more depth) and what you make.
- Employees: Pleasing employees, of course, might help with any of these constituencies, but also changes how you make difficult decisions.
- the regulators: And finally, if the lawyers have enough sway, you might make your hardest decisions around what you think a regulator will say.
- There are also ego choices, like focusing on the media or your neighbors or the competition. And political choices, like focusing on what makes one department head happy... but those are much harder to turn into successful enterprises. Every organization chooses its own audience, and that choice is based on the architecture of the industry, the mindset of the boss and the history of how you got here. But don't doubt that it changes everything you do.
It got me to thinking about churches and drives them and the impact thereof. So, it may be too obvious but I put Seth’s groups in church talk.
- The Sales Force: Some churches focus on the membership. When the membership is happy they are happy. There is some merit in this as leaders strive to be and serve the Body of Christ, as they lead in striving to encourage each other daily, as we push toward building up the the Body. It takes a lot of work to keep a body healthy.
- The Stock Market: Yes, some churches chose to focus on the bottom line. As long as the money is coming in then they are fine. The only number that matters to these leaders is the one that is on the “tote” board at the front. With the responsibilities of building debt and/or multi-staff salaries it’s obvious why this exists, but ANYTIME money becomes the primary focus in ministry that ministry will struggle for meaning. An inherent danger with this is that the leadership focused on “the bottom line” will (hopefully, though I have heard at least twice of elders who bluntly said “we’ve got to keep the money people happy) unintentionally attempt to cater to and keep the “money” happy. And the reality is in 90% of the cases the older members have the money or at least are the best givers.
- Potential New Customers: While churches MUST focus on attracting new members. After all our “commission” calls us to that (Matthew 28:18-20) and the mission of Jesus compels us to (Luke 19:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10), even over-focusing on this segment can be dangerous. A church that choses to only focus on reaching “new customers” runs the risk of developing a “the customer is always right” mentality. And if we pander to and cater to that audience we could compromise the message of Christ and the apostles doctrine. The failure of the “seeker sensitive service” is that we run the risk of forgetting that they are NOT the audience in worship. Our goal is not to bring God down to people but to lift people up to God.
- Existing Customers: I sat in a bank back in 1985 with a young bank president who had moved into our community and has left the church before then. He talked of the church he had grown up in and the Sunday that they elders had put artificial stained glass over the windows. He said: “It was like they had shut out the world.” If we forget the lost and our focus is only on programs that please “us” then cabin fever and infighting is certain to follow. Especially in larger cities where multiple congregations “compete” for members we run the risk of entertaining ourselves to death. Leaders who develop this mentality become little more than glorified bellhops moving from person to person and issue to issue and never getting to the mission of the church. Members and their needs must NOT be overlooked but when they become the primary focus we are in danger.
- Employees: I’ve been an “employee” of the church for over 30 years and how a church treats its ministers reveals some important things about their capacity to care but when leaders are only interested in keeping employees happy they develop a “circle the wagons” mentality that is certain to lead to deep riffs and a huge blindside.
- The Regulators: The first time the fact that some churches focus on this was in 1985. Jane Murray had filed a very public suit against a congregation in Oklahoma that had withdrawn from her. The case hit the news and eventually Phil Donahue’s radar. A few months later in talking with a group of elders about disciplining a member one of them whined: “But what if she sues us?” I was flabbergasted! What if? If the regulators, whether lawyers, bankers, insurance agents or politicians policies affect the churches “policies” we have abandoned truth for the sake of safety. The worldly may applaud our “wisdom” but God will not.
I like to say to preachers to remember your audience. In communicating we must keep in mind “who we are speaking TO” but more than that we must never forget “who we are speaking FOR!” All of the above audiences have a voice that must not be silenced in planning our activities and approaches but none of them must ever for a moment override the voice of our Lord and His Word. Be careful about allowing any of your audiences ever to become your total focus in neglect of the other audiences that are out there. A wise leadership would do well to discuss how actions will affect EACH of these audiences BUT but never forget to allow those audiences to override the primary Audience.