Why Trying to Reach Everybody Is a Really Bad Evangelism Strategy

Why Trying to Reach Everybody Is a Really Bad Evangelism Strategy

It’s so hard not to do it.

I’ve done it. Maybe you’ve also done it as a church leader.

The problem? Thinking that the goal of your church is to reach everyone.

It sounds appropriate. I get that. I mean what else are you going to say? I’m only going to reach a few people. Some people? No people?

Besides, the Gospel is for everyone.

Yet, as much as we hate it, most of us know the truth: that trying to reach everybody is one of the fastest ways to ensure you’ll reach nobody.

Why Trying to Reach Everybody Is a Really Bad Evangelism Strategy

I know that sounds like it doesn’t make sense, but hang in there.

There are at least three reasons that trying to reach everybody is a really bad strategy and why focusing on reaching a particular segment of people is a much better approach.

Here’s why.

1. NOBODY’S ACTUALLY REACHING EVERYBODY 

Think about your church today. You are currently reaching a segment of the population—not the entire population. You’re not reaching everybody. I’m not reaching everybody. Nobody’s reaching everybody.

Wait, you say…some brands have massive reach. Like Instagram for example.

Want a surprise? Only 35 percent of online users are on Instagram. Even Instagram has missed the majority of population. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of believing that you can reach everybody, but the truth is that even the largest organizations in the world simply don’t.

Not only is thinking you’re going to reach everybody delusionary, it’s also bad theology.

Your church is a church, but it’s not the church. The church consists of hundreds of millions of Christians and hundreds of thousands of churches and congregations around the world and within your community.

To think your church is the entire body of Christ is to usurp the role of [the whole range] of other believers and congregations.

Is your church for everyone? No it’s not. The Gospel for everyone, and your church gets to play a part.

It’s going to take more than just your church to reach your city. And more than just you to reach your community. To think you can do it all is more than little bit arrogant and bordering on heretical.

I love that you want to reach everybody (I still do too), but you’ll actually reach more people if you get more focused.

Your church is not the body of Christ. It’s a part of the body of Christ.

2. YOU’RE BEST EQUIPPED TO REACH A PARTICULAR KIND OF PEOPLE

Sure, just like you, I want everyone to love our church and everyone to love me.

And that’s the problem right there.

In addition to unpacking that in a counselor’s office (here’s a free blog post on people pleasing to get you started), the truth is people and congregations attract certain kinds of people, just like hip hop attracts a certain audience, alternative music attracts another, and coffee shop acoustic yet another.

Look at your current church. The people you’re reaching probably represent a particular demographic.

Even if your church is multi-ethnic and multi-generational (which would be amazing), you are likely reaching a particular segment of people within the broader demographic.

Your church has a style, feel and culture that attracts certain groups. In Western culture, people self-select based on what your organization has to offer, just like Walmart shoppers are different than Nordstrom shoppers.

In addition, the way you do church (a combination of your mission and vision, but even more importantly, your organizational culture and strategy) has an inevitable filtering effect:

Your music is going to attract some people and bother others.

Your teaching style and content is going to connect better with some than others.

The people who already make up your church are more likely to attract others like themselves; like attracts like.

Your location and even the architectural style of the building in which you gather (whether that’s a school, a theater, a gothic cathedral, a contemporary suburban mega-church, an A-frame ’50s landmark, or a living room) make some feel at home while pushing others away.

Your leadership style is compelling to some people and not so much for others.

I’m not saying this is the way it should be. And I’m certainly not saying we should segregate our churches racially/economically/socio-economically. I’m just saying your particular vibe, integrated as it may be, attracts a certain kind of person.

This is why ice cream shops have dozens of flavors. It’s also why the Body of Christ has many different members, all of which play a part.

We’re not all the same, and God uses a variety of people to reach a variety of people.

Far too many church leaders spend their time fighting these realities.

Rather than cooperate with the way people naturally gather, too many leaders resist it.

I agree there are times we need to fight that. A church with no cultural diversity in a culturally diverse city functions more like a club than a church.

And a congregation with only the rich and no people on social assistance deeply worries me. Some churches attract only insiders or an age demographic that makes the future impossible. When I began in ministry, we had mostly handfuls of people over 65 attending the churches in which I served. The future wasn’t bright, nor was the church effective in its mission.

In those cases (and some others) you need to change your culture to reach the broader culture.

But still, are you going to reach everybody?

No. No you’re not.

3. YOU’LL DIE PEOPLE PLEASING

Leaders who try to create a church that reaches everyone die people pleasing.

Trying reach everybody easily descends into trying to please everybody. And trying to please everyone means you’ll ultimately please no one.

Too many church leaders already struggle with people-pleasing. It can be hard not to.

But people pleasing leaders struggle deeply with being bold. It leaves you too afraid to try something new. Too afraid to even dream.

If you struggle with people pleasing, you’ll reduce potentially great initiatives to the least offensive version you can find, hoping everyone will buy in.

Except your ability to attract new people just went out the window.

The only people who really like your new idea are a small core of the people who already liked your old idea…and any growth potential is jettisoned.

Here’s the lesson far too many leaders never learn about trying to offend as few people as possible:

If you attempt to offend no one, you will eventually become irrelevant to everyone.

Now, here’s the promise in an otherwise disconcerting thought-stream:

Your church should be open to everyone, but you will be best at reaching a particular someone.

And that’s OK.

Instead of competing with that, why not co-operate with it?

After all, your church is not the body of Christ. It is part of the body of Christ.

Play your part.

Can you imagine the pressure that will release?

SO HOW DO YOU CHANGE THAT?

Where I serve at Connexus, our vision is to create churches unchurched people love to attend.

In particular, we’ve chosen to focus on young, unchurched families. It’s hard to zero in on a group like that, but it’s worth it. The seniors and the young adults and the kids and the teens and the empty nesters and the young marrieds and the singles and the blended families can’t all be equally important. They just can’t be.

So we picked unchurched young families.

As a result:

  • We don’t try to please people who want a church for the already-convinced.
  • Christians who have no passion for friends and neighbors who aren’t in a relationship with Christ are not our main concern.
  • We don’t feel the pressure to offer 100 programs and in fact often point people to community organizations or neighboring churches that do much better jobs in those areas. Sometimes we encourage people to find their own way to meet those needs. We focus on the few things that will help us best accomplish our mission.
  • Sunday services are designed with young unchurched people in mind. Naturally, what that looks like continues to change and morph, but the focus on helping unchurched young adults come into a relationship with Jesus has remained the same.
  • We specifically target the feel of our services and culture to connect with a 30-year-old unchurched man, believing that if the man comes, so (gladly) will his family and friends (and often his parents, and sometimes even grandparents).

I realize this is contrary thinking for most people, but for us it’s resulted in reaching more unchurched people than we ever have before (or than many churches in our community and country), with the majority of our growth being from self-identified unchurched people. Which is, after all, kind of why we started the church in the first place.

And which is maybe why you started or lead your church.

So…rethink this.

Is your church for everyone? No it’s not.

The Gospel for everyone, and your church gets to play a part.

This article originally appeared here.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.