Friday, January 18, 2008

Then Peter Stood Up and Said, "If You'll Take a Look at Slide 3..."

Who are we as a church? What is the ratio of men to women? How old are we? What is our median income? How racially diverse are we?

What about our community? What does the community "around" our church look like? Who are the people we are trying to reach, trying to serve?

These are all questions we ask on a regular basis, especially if we belong to a large church. Surely it helps to know who we are, right? And if we want to reach people in our community, it can only help to know who THEY are. Even if we are focusing on relational evangelism, it still helps to know who we are trying to develop relationships with!

This might be one of the not-so-subtle differences you'll find between the 21st century, suburban Midwestern church, and the 1st century church you'll find in the Book of Acts. You didn't see Peter handing out demographic surveys on the day of Pentecost. I'm not sure Paul and Phillip were necessarily putting together PowerPoint presentations to show who their "target" was.

Yet surely it existed to some extent, right? Obviously they didn't have the same tools that we do today, but did they at least THINK about the kind of people that made up their local churches, and the kinds of people they were trying to reach?

One problem may be that our Bible, as authoritative as it is, doesn't contain ALL the facts from the daily lives of the apostles. There were, no doubt, things going on that were not recorded.

My thinking is that they just forgot to assign someone to take minutes in all of their elder meetings.

Anyway, the "demographic target" discussion is one where I'm torn, because let's admit it: The more time we spend looking at statistics in databases... The more time we spend breaking down our "constituency"... The more we look like an institution! A corporation!

The very thing we're trying so hard to avoid.

Like so many other issues, I just don't think it's completely avoidable in today's society, with the current setup of how our churches function. One problem may be that we want to emulate the early church, yet at the same time, we tend to view that same church as a bit of a fluid hippie commune, a bunch of excited young Christians living together and telling everyone they know about Jesus. With anarchy reigning.

But that's deceptive. Sure, it was new. They didn't have 2000 years of history and assumptions to fall back on. It was small, they were persecuted, and they weren't meeting in $14 million buildings, with worries of mortgage payments and electrical bills.

Yet they did have some structure. They did have a semblance of a plan. There were certain demographics (stereotypes?) associated with each city where people were sent to spread the gospel. Isn't that sort of the same thing?

So then: How important is it for us to know how many Hispanics, blacks, and Asians are in our churches? How important is it for us to know which ones make six (or seven) figures, and which ones are just scraping to get by?

How important is that information?


void77 said...

Hmmm... I'm only a few chapters into "The Challenge of Jesus," but based on that little bit of information, I think there's a strong argument that Jesus and the Apostles *did* have a specific demographic and target audience. In the beginning, Jesus' works were distinctly targeted at the "second-Temple" Jews and Israel as a whole. He was paving the way for Gentile inclusion, but his time here on Earth was primarily focused on Jewish redemption. Even after he died and was resurrected, Peter and the others continued building the church based on the "new agenda", the "Good News" - targeted towards Jews. It wasn't till some time later - at Jesus' chosen time - that he revealed himself to Paul and began targeting a new audience. So now you've got two main leaders that are servicing two distinct demographic groups.

It makes sense to me that Jesus operated on Earth - as a human - under completely human constraints. Albeit, he performed miracles and spoke with great authority... He still understood the political landscape and the social views of the audience he was talking to at the time.

Honestly, I'd say that the 1st century church really did act like a "mega-church", they just never congregated in the same location. Paul definately had his hands full!


Joe B said...

How improtant is it? Well, the value of the data depends upon how it is utilized. If we want to know whether to draw another box on the org chart because we reached 7% black membership, then I consider the data to be of little value. Why? Because the ministry approach is goofy (even if typical.) Besides, such statistics are not really much better than mere intuition anyway.

I want to know who our PEOPLE are, not what categories they comprise. I want to know where they live. How many kids, what ages, what schools. I want to plot their addresses on a map. I want to know where they plot themselves on the map of faith. I want to know how they make a living in the world, and what they do when they are not working, and with whom. How have they served in the past, how might they feel inspired to serve in the future. What's their favorite song or group.

Demographics? I'm not interested. Every time you statisticalize a thing you just Paint it Beige. That's the way of corporations and communists, not Christ.

Joe B said...

That St Peter title was hilarious