I recently attended a Forge workshop where Allan Hirsch spoke on cultural distance as a barrier to the sharing the good news of Jesus with the world and the inconvenient truth that 80% of the energy of most churches went into reaching the 20% of their culture that was culturally closest. And then we wonder why Christian communities are one of the last places the rest of our culture looks for Spiritual guidance!
Well I have a question. How do we know the (primarily) geographical focus of the typical smaller to medium size church isn’t part of the problem here? For it is a fact that cultural observers have long noted that many people now connect through demographic networks every bit as much through geographic neighbourhoods, if not more so. If so, should we not at least explore the possibility that there are some, possibly many, within our neighbourhoods who are unlikely to be reached with a neighbourhood focus? Should we not be more open to more demographically focussed ways of sharing the good news of Jesus and the resurrection as well?
I think we should, but I also think we need to rethink things on a citywide basis to make the biggest difference. For the situation we have at the moment is most churches are structured geographically first, and demographically second, if at all. And even when demographically focussed ministries exist within geographically organised churches, they are typically only the largest demographics (e.g. men’s and women’s ministries) and even then, largely siloed from demographically focussed ministries in other parts of the city.
So let’s consider a smaller demographic. What about ministries to creative people? How many churches, when they come in contact with a highly creative person, are ready to help them network with other creative Christians around the city who can share the Jesus shaped life with them in a creative way? I see very few. In fact the typical experience I’ve heard is they’re merely referred to the most creative individual in the neighbourhood church, who is often isolated also, and left with that. And that particular situation has been even worse in Sydney with the demise of the Black Stump festival.
You see, up to 25% of a typical community can be expected to be creative. But do 25% of churches cater for creative people? No. You’d be fortunate to find 2.5%. And it’s often even worse for smaller demographics. So, as a thought experiment, consider how different things would be if churches structured themselves the opposite way: demographic first, geographic second? Just ponder it for a moment.
Of course there would be limitations with this approach too. But I have to wonder, what if we considered things in a more two dimensional way, more grid-like, with denominational support structures for both neighbourhood organisation and demographic networking. So that, for instance, churches that found themselves in epicentres for certain cultures and subcultures were supported by the wider church in building specialised ministries and developing resources for the wider church where these subcultures were less dominant but still present. Rather than isolated individuals and micro-ministries just reinventing the wheel all the time, at best. Just a thought.
One thought on “Does a geographic focus hinder churches in reaching demographic based cultures?”
Our church (St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church | Johannesburg, South Africa) started out as a demographic one, though it differed from most in that it was aimed at what sociologists used to call an “outgroup” — the non-Greek, non-Russian, non-Serbian people whop wanted to be Orthodox but not ethnic. So it is eclectic in the sense that a lot of people travel long distances. But we have tried to become geographical by having neighbourghood outreach as well.