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Beyond Demographics

Beyond Demographics

You’ve been asked to talk to a group at church about love. You prepare a 30-minute presentation that you’re pleased with. You think to yourself, “If I heard this, I’d love it”. Then you find out that the group is a pre-school class. So your talk fails – quite possibly after their 3-minute attention span abruptly ends.

The only way to create any appropriate communication (printed, spoken, video, etc.) that will be appreciated is to know as much as possible about the audience. Your presentation to a kindergarten class is very different from time spent talking with adults.

It’s critical to understand your church audience if you want to communicate to them.

It’s critical to understand your church audience if you want to communicate to them. Demographics is a good place to start (because it’s the easiest) but we must leap beyond demographics in order to engage with them. Here’s how:

Know your internal demographics.

Hopefully someone on your church staff has data that can be assessed to determine internal demographics. I’m amazed how often this ball is dropped, though. The importance of knowing who’s in your church is critical to getting your message presented properly. Don’t rely on what you see or think. Don’t have the data? Consider surveying or interviewing to get it. Discover the average or mean age of your congregation, gender skews, your largest demographic group, what groups are growing or changing, and where they live.

Create communication personas based on internal demographics and psychographics.

Take the demographic information and combine it with the knowledge of people you deal regularly with, either in your church or outside in the community. From the demographic segments, create persona groups based on how they feel, what they want, what they need, and the goals they have – ultimately, how you can help them through your communications. These groups then should be prioritized based on your messaging. Give them a name so you can refer to them in internal meetings. This makes the demographic data come alive with your understanding of them. You can also Google search for demographic groups and they’ll give you overarching descriptions of the stereotypical groups.

Draw your reach area on a map.

The saying, “birds of a feather flock together” is true. That’s why it’s essential to understand where your current congregation lives. They usually live (or hang out) around people like themselves; therefore, they also need what your congregation receives from you. That’s why word-of-mouth advertising works so well. Call up a local map and start plotting the family units. Some software that collects your demographic data will do this for you. Once it’s plotted, try to identify the “main area” where your congregation lives. This is your reach area. This is the area that God’s called you specifically as a local church to evangelize. Get to know it. Google demographics for your community (US Census has their data online). Sometimes the Chamber of Commerce will also help you with that information if you’re in an urban area.

It’s essential to understand where your current congregation lives.

Compare your reach area’s demographics for inconsistencies to your internal demographics.

Do you look like your reach area? Is your average age the same? Are the occupations similar or different? If you walk around your community and seek out the demographic groups that your church most represents, do they hang out in areas that look like your church’s decor? What percentage of your reach community do you represent? At what rate is it growing? Are you growing with it? If you don’t look or feel like your community, it’s difficult for your community to come and feel comfortable in your church. Often, we blame the Gospel message for making people feel awkward, but that’s not the only thing that keeps them from coming. Start identifying what turns people away from church and change those things (not the message, but the other things).

Often, we blame the Gospel message for making people feel awkward, but that’s not the only thing that keeps them from coming.

Communicate directly to your personas.

Take a look at your communication personas and alter them to better fit your community if necessary. Maybe shuffle their priority to better fit your community trends. Then start communicating to their needs, concerns, and goals. Every communication should be honed toward a persona. Think about them when reviewing them. Will they respond well? Will they care? What’s their probable response?

We have to stop presenting information that we (in the church) will find interesting and start engaging with the people in our communities with what they want. That comes from understanding the demographics of the community. Their acceptance of the Gospel rides on that engagement. Look beyond the demographic data to the people behind the numbers. It’s those souls we’re called to minister to. Get to know them.

About The Author

Mark MacDonald

Mark MacDonald is a Bible teacher, speaker, writer, and communication strategist for BeKnownForSomething.com. He empowers churches to become known for something relevant (a communication thread) throughout their ministries, websites, and social media. Mark and his wife, Tammy, live in North Carolina with two sons ministering at churches in Calgary and Chicago. Follow him: @markmac1023

2 Comments

  1. Don McCaleb

    Great, thought-provoking article. Thanks for sharing. Perhaps one element that could be interesting to explore further: How best to move forward if your current church demographics don’t align with who the church leadership feels called to reach. For instance, there are many aging congregations who feel called to reach a younger demographic in their neighborhood. Seemed like the article touched on this, but this might be an idea worth delving into further down the road.

    Reply
    • Mark MacDonald

      Thanks for this! It’s a good question — it’s like a restaurant with a great chef that’s known for his world-famous hamburgers; but when numbers start to dwindle and demographics reveal that the community has become mainly vegan, the restaurant is in trouble. We’d quickly recommend adding vegetarian dishes while toning down the hamburger entrees. But what about the amazing hamburger chef?!? He’ll probably be called to open a restaurant in a meat-eating community, learn to change, or he’ll soon be out of business.

      Ultimately, the community NEEDS to decide the direction, tone, and communication of the church (without altering Biblical Truth). Our local churches NEED to love the communities we’re planted in or we’re doomed to slowly fade away…

      Reply

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