One of my favorite parts of my job (at Affirm) is getting to work with people who have unique visions for ministry. For me, this means I get the gift, or the privilege, of getting to walk with ministry leaders as they create and sustain new ministry ventures across the area and across the world.
I have noticed time and time again that the ministries that are killing it (metaphorically, of course) are the ones who don’t try to be a “church for all people.” In fact, many of the ministries that are really excelling aren’t churches at all. They are targeted, focused projects that know who they serve, how they serve, and why they serve.
In a world where news is continually targeted, your Facebook news feed is targeted, ads are targeted, and life is… well, targeted… your church or ministry simply cannot appeal to all people. You will have to focus your message, and keep your niche tight.
I want to share two examples from my context of pastors who are really moving forward in their ministries because of this model:
I was on the phone with a colleague today whose work is just inspiring. Pastor Abigail Browka had a dream of starting a café before the pandemic started, but quickly realized that it wasn’t going to come to fruition as COVID-19 sent the world into a tailspin. So, a café was out (at least for now). And she had such beautiful ideas about infusing this café with sacred vibes while inviting the secular world for a moment of rest and tranquility…!
But there was another idea. That didn’t lose site of her vision, and perhaps has given birth to something even bigger. Her vision is to help busy adults find ways to connect with the sacred. The café would have done that and given them a place to connect. What else could give them a place to connect with the sacred?
Instead of giving up, Pastor Abigail spent months researching how to create and implement a mobile app. She created Everyday Sanctuary: a website and a mobile app that busy adults can download into their phones and get daily, 5-minute prayer practices.
Honestly, this is one of my favorite new prayer practices, because you get a push notification everyday about the day’s prayer. The push notification gets right in your face (like I sometimes wish God would but am careful what I wish for!) and then there’s even space to write your prayers in the app. How cool is that?
Pastor Abigail took her vision of bringing the sacred into the busy lives of adults and really catapulted it to the next level through the creation of this app. And she’s redefining what the model of “New Faith Community” looks like.
“I’m not building a church. This is about building a faith practice,” she told me, “to help busy adults find five minutes a day to connect with God and their spirituality.” That’s a focused niche, if you ask me. That’s targeted, dynamic, and it’s working. She already has over 350 app downloads, and the number is growing everyday.
The mobile app is free, and can be found in the App Store – I highly recommend that you download it and take a look at the daily prayer practices and get connected to Everyday Sanctuary.
I highly recommend you take her lessons to heart: know what you’re doing and for who. Pastor Abigail is focused, and continually reminds the people around her of the message: helping busy adults find five minutes to incorporate a faith practice into their lives.
Beautifully simple, and beautifully effective.
Focused. Targeted. Done.
I’ve talked about Church in the Wild before. They’ve got a bit of merch in our Mission Market, and my friend Rev. Corey Turnpenny wrote an article about donor letters for our blog (that I highly recommend you read – she’s brilliant): The Art of the Donor Letter.
We actually just added two pieces to the Mission Market – some Mantra Postcards and Journey Journals, if you’re interested in fully recycled materials and environmentally-themed things:
Anyway, Church in the Wild is an “alternative worship and service community dedicated to connecting with and caring for Creation, working for environmental and social justice.” In other words, they are an eco-minded worship and service group that is dedicated to creation care.
Everything they do is connected to creation care:
- They are a “church without walls” (because why keep the outdoors… outside?) Their home base is at Sky Lake Camp and Retreat Center, and they serve and support people throughout the Southern Tier
- They focus on outdoor events (including future outdoor worship)
- They gift 10% of all donations to Binghamton Food Rescue and Sky Lake Camp
- All merch they create are organic or recycled materials
- They have a video series called Between Two Firs, held outside with Dr. Benjamin Turnpenny, a chemist, and various guests.
The group focuses on creation-centered service and will be hosting worship in the near future that’s connected to creation and ecology.
They breathe it. Their dedication to the earth is part of the group’s ethos, culture… you cannot connect to Church in the Wild and not know that they are creation centered.
Niching down isn’t always easy, though. It sometimes means there are people who are “left out,” and that’s something we don’t love to do as Christians.
But I bet Pastor Corey never asked herself, “but what if people who hate the outdoors want to come and worship with us? Should we have an indoor service for them? Should we have mosquito nets they can stand under?”
Of course not.
Honestly, those friends in Christ can find their own niched places. Or create them – it might sound crass, but in some ways creating unique spaces gives people permission to create their own unique spaces. Who knows, someone might be inspired by Rev. Corey’s outdoor worship and create an indoor meditative space instead, that speaks to people in a different way.
There is no one “right way” to worship or connect to God, and we’re all trying our best to connect in ways that speak to us. But if you try to speak in all ways to all people, don’t you end up not speaking to anyone at all?
It’s like the church that tries to be LGBTQ affirming but then hesitates to say “partner” instead of “husband” because people who aren’t affirming might be offended. Be who you are, boldly. Niche who you are, boldly. That’s the way that ministry groups will continue; not offensively, but definitively, uniquely, and targeted…ly (sorry, I had to keep it parallel there).
You know who your ministry is, and you also probably know how many kinds of people you’re trying to please in one space. Especially if you’re creating something new; be cautioned: your message will be diluted if you try to target too many people groups at once. Do your research. Choose your demographic, and then be true to that message and people group as much as possible.
There will be pushback, because Christians want to feel like everyone is included and that everyone has a voice at the table but remember what I mention above: maybe this worshipping or connectional group isn’t for everyone, but maybe it will inspire people to create their own spaces. That doesn’t mean that you’re hateful or intentionally exclusive, it just means you’re true to who you are targeting.
All the best as you decide your target population, your message, and work to stick to it. I hope these two ministry stories have inspired you and helped you refine your message. If you ever need help, guidance or coaching, you can always send me an email and I’d be happy to offer a free introductory session with you; visit the Contact Us page to connect with me.