Do You Know Your Target?
In the early 2000’s Green Day released a song that famously asked, “Do you know your enemy?” For a Christian this is an especially important question as we need to know who we are fighting against, so we know how to proceed and overcome. If we know our enemy and his schemes, we can be aware of his actions and movements, recognizing them before they entrap us. As important as it is to now our enemy it is just as important to know who our target is. Who is it we are trying to reach? What about them separates them from others, what makes them tick? Shortly before Jesus ascends to heaven following his Resurrection, he gives the command known as the Great Commission, instructing those listening both at the time and in the future through scripture, to Go out into all the World baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have taught you. This is all fine and well but how do we do this? Given that at that time a Jew was different than a Persian, Greek or Roman in terms of culture, belief, and motivation. The same is true today as an American, is vastly different than a Ghanaian tribal member and different than an Indian living in Mumbai. For that matter America is such a melting pot of people and cultures, an American in the Pacific Northwest is culturally different than one who has grown up and lives in the South. What works to reach a person in Seattle Washington, or Portland Oregon, is not going to be the best approach when ministering in Birmingham Alabama or Dallas Texas and vice versa. What works in one place will not usually have the same impact elsewhere, with the exception to this being shared culture. In Church circles and evangelism discussions it is often overlooked that unless we understand our target, (those we are attempting to minister to), we will not be successful in our endeavors to fulfill the Great Commission. Trying to follow a plan developed in Alabama for evangelism, and growth in Seattle is a recipe for frustration as the needs, motivations and ideals of each region are different and as a result require different approaches.
If we are to be successful in reaching the lost, maturing the believer and growing the Church, it starts with knowing our target. As controversial as it may sound, Biblical knowledge and truth are not enough, Jesus understood this and tailored his teachings to his audience. As powerful as scripture is, if it is not understandable to the listener its effect is greatly hindered. This is important to keep in mind in ministry as one’s approach, whether in evangelism or discipleship needs to match their audience. For example, using theological terms like sanctification, justification, ecclesiology and soteriology in a classroom or Sunday school full of Bible scholars would make sense, it would not make sense if your audience has never heard the Gospel, never been to Church and has a view of God and religion that is heavily influence by the secular world. To further illustrate my point, I want to contrast two populations, the Pacific Northwest, and the U.S. South. Reputationally you can not get much further apart than the conservative Bible belt and the Liberal, Post-Christian Northwest. The truth however is both regions are drastically in need of a move of God, both regions are inundated with, deep wounds, depression, anger, resentment, infidelity, and the overarching effects of sin, but both regions are not going to find their way to Christ’s healing through the same approach. In the South, going to Church is part of the culture, whether or not one believes in Christ or not, they go to Church on Sunday. It is as much a tradition as it is evidence of faith in Christ. Because Church attendance is heavily based on tradition, many if not most are at least familiar if not comfortable with attending on Sunday and the message of the Church. This is not the case in the Pacific Northwest, church attendance is not expected, its not the cultural norm and most are not comfortable stepping into a church building. In the Northwest, those within the Church walls are almost certainly there in pursuit of a relationship with Christ.
One consequence of this difference is seen in the way one must approach Evangelism. In the South, churches can evangelize by inviting people to the church because it is already viewed as a community gathering place and many are already comfortable with the church building. In contrast, that approach will not work in the Northwest, to be effective, one must go out into the community and be present, visible, and active. It is very much indicative of the statement that nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. In the Northwest very few will ever walk through the doors of a Church if they do not already know how much those waiting on the other side of the door’s care. Growing up in the Northwest, I always found it frustrating, uncomfortable, and not very successful evangelizing my community. This was largely due to the procedure that was taught during that time that did not match the needs, values, or culture of the region. The idea of the time was inviting your friends and neighbors to church so they can hear about and experience the Gospel and the love of Christ. This did not work and still does not work because the culture of the region places high value on active and personal relationship over traditions and history, especially when it comes to areas like religion, politics, ethics, and collective norms. The work of evangelism does not begin with a church invitation, in fact if evangelism is to be effective the majority of the process and work has already taken place before a church invitation is ever given. While we have been speaking specifically about the Pacific Northwest and how it contrasts the South, this approach to evangelism of being active in one’s community and showing the light of Christ and building relationship model of evangelism rather than inviting people to Church to experience his presence is the far superior way to reach one’s community and spread the Gospel especially in Post-Christian, liberal regions like the Northwest. However, if regions like the Bible belt, Texas and other conservative areas that find more success in the Church invitation model, were to embrace and employ a more relational and active model of evangelism, they would find that they would experience even greater success.
This brings us back to our original question, Do You Know Your Target? Whether you are in Texas, Nebraska, Seattle, or Southeast Asia, you are only going to be as successful as your understanding of the culture you are in. Without understanding, what the people you serve, need, want, and are searching for, it is difficult to understand and relate to them in relationship. Without understanding the way, they think, process, and evaluate, it is difficult to present Gods love in an effective and loving way. Jesus understood this truth as evidenced by his teachings. If we look through the Gospel, Jesus is constantly teaching using parables and metaphors that were easily understood by the listener of the day. He spoke in a way that the simple-minded common folk of the day would understand, speaking of the lost sheep to a culture of shepherds and scattering of seed to a group of farmers opened up the message of Christ to the uneducated in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. Jesus knew that he had to meet his audience where they were at, not where he hoped they would be or where they would eventually be, he met them where they were at and spoke to them in a way they would understand. If we, being Christ’s hands and feet are to be successful in reaching the lost like Jesus, we need to understand our target and meet them where they are at, learning to speak their language and presenting the Gospel in way that they can understand and grasp. When Jesus initially begins calling his 12 disciples, he does not do it from a synagogue, a church or even the town square, rather he goes down to docks where they were working and calls them to follow him, stating that they would become “Fishers of Men”. As Fishermen themselves they understood what Jesus was promising them as a result they followed him. It is because Jesus went to them and spoke to them in a way that they could understand that they dropped their nets a chose to follow him. If we are going to follow Christ’s example as his image bearers, it begins with following his example, of understanding his audience, tailoring his approach, and teaching to meet them where they are at, and then lead them into deeper understanding and maturity. As Christs ambassadors we need to understand where people are, meet them there and keep our eyes ahead as we lead those entrusted to us to the promised land of Gods, intent, purpose, and desire for their lives.