Summary: It’s become fashionable for churches to "target" a specific audience in their messages and ministry. But is that really such a good idea? Is it possible that in targeting specific groups we might be undermining our real ministry?
OPEN: In my files I ran across these nuggets of wisdom from little children:
Patrick, age 10 - "Never trust a dog to watch your food."
Hannah, age 9 - "When your dad is mad and asks you, ’Do I look stupid?’ don’t answer."
Taylia, age 11 - "When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair."
Andrew, age 9 - "A puppy always has bad breath -- even after eating a Tic-Tac."
Lauren, age 9 - "Felt-tip markers are not good to use as lipstick."
Alyesha, 13 - "When you get a bad grade in school, show it to your mom when she’s on the phone."
Joel, age 10 - "Don’t pick on your sister when she’s holding a baseball bat."
But my favorite was from Eileen, age 8 who said: "Never try to baptize a cat."
I love kids. I’ve always loved kids. In fact, one of my greatest pleasures in ministry has been when I’ve been allowed to teach young children.
• They’re eager to learn.
• They trust their teachers.
• They like to play and color and do crafts.
• And they’re just a lot of FUN to be around.
Even when the kids are unruly and I have to yell at them a little to get them under control… they’re still fun to be around.
So, I’ve always found it a little bizarre that these disciples would get so upset about parents bringing their little children to Jesus. Why on earth would this upset them?
In Mark 10:13 we read “People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.”
Why would these disciples not want these kids to be around Jesus?
And as I pondered this, it occurred to me that the disciples were simply exercising a principle that many trendy churches are embracing nowadays called “targeting” their audience. “Targeting” an audience is the practice of fine tuning your ministry to reach a select group of people.
• For example I visited one denomination’s website who counseled their member churches to ask:
Who is my church’s target audience and where do I find them?
• Another trendy church resource website challenged their subscribers;
“Have you spent much time thinking about who you want to reach in your ministry? To whom is your church trying to communicate? Ministers often overlook this basic question. The better you clarify your ministry’s audience the more you will be able to meet their needs.”
This site went on to say “A target audience represents your focal group—those you hope to communicate with and where you should FOCUS your attention. Without focus, you won’t be able to reach anyone effectively.”
You know what those folks are saying?
They’re saying that there are just certain kinds people out there that you want to reach, so you need to target your ministry principally to their needs.
Essentially, that’s what the disciples were doing.
They had a target audience – a special focus group - in mind, and it didn’t include little kids.
Jesus was a busy man.
He had people to heal, demons to cast out, important people to talk to.
And these were just little kids
They weren’t important.
They couldn’t contribute.
They had no influence.
They were nice (and all that) but they weren’t worth Jesus’ time.
AND SO the disciples tried to shoo them away.
The disciples had a target audience in mind.
And only certain kinds of people deserved Jesus’ attention
Now, churches have done this for ages.
Churches have long had target groups - long before it was a trendy thing to do.
• For example, there have been churches who’ve targeted THE INFLUENTIAL in town. They go after the lawyers, the doctors, the business people.
Well they believe that in order to be a successful church, they need to be influential in their community – and these are influential people. Also, it takes money to exercise this kind of influence… and these folk have money. It’s a twofer! (Two for the price of one).
I once knew of a church that was one of these influential congregations. Anyone who was anyone wanted to belong to that church… and it ultimately destroyed them.
• Then there are churches who target their CLIQUE. They want people who look like them, dress like them, think like them. They want to be comfortable with the person who sits next to them.
And we thought we were done with cliques when we left High School. Silly us.
• And – of course – there are ALSO churches that target kids. They have all the toys and programs that any congregation would want to pull these children in. But why do you think many churches go after kids? Many (though not all) churches target the kids because… they believe if they can get the kids they can get the parents too. They fear becoming an “old congregation” and so they go all out to build the best youth program possible. Not actually for the kids themselves, but in hopes of bringing in their parents.