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Should A Church Have A Primary Customer?

 “Everyone is our customer… But resources are limited.  The more people we call our customers, the more we’re diffusing resources and attention over different constituents that are not at the core of the business.” – Robert Simons

Sarah Green, Identify Your Primary Customer, The Harvard Business Review

As a church leader, we bristle at aspects of the primary customer quote above:  1) Are there limited resources in Gods’ kingdom; 2) Does God’s Word identify primary, secondary, and tertiary customers; and, among other questions, 3) Can God’s resources be diffused and spread too thin? 4) Is it even biblical for a church to have a primary customer?

God resources are not limited, He loves and cares for all His children, and His resources are infinite; however, He does call us to be strategic, organized, and methodical in our approach. (Ex 3:14, Ex 14) Our God executed an eternal plan to redeem children.  The Bible is filled with examples where God called His servants to carry out a specific role that impacted a small group of people within His redemption plan.   And, each of the people, including you and me, rely upon God’s ultimate achievement of this redemption plan; although each of us plays a small role.

We recognize that missionaries must target a particular “customer” or people group? Converge sends missionaries to the least-reached peoples of the world knowing that we will only reach them if we intentionally adapt to the culture of a specific people group. To reach the Muslim Fulbe people of remote Cameroon, we use a very different approach than to we do to reach the Buddhist people of Thailand. To bring the gospel to those suffering from HIV/Aids in Africa, we employ a strategy that would never work in bringing the gospel to the remote tribes of Nepal. Only when we clearly identify our target people and intentionally adapt to appeal to them appropriately will we ever see fruit produced for the Kingdom.

How does the Apostle Paul model this primary customer approach in the mission field?  In Acts 17, as Paul directs his message to the Romans who worship “An Unknown God,” he makes them his primary customer and “A few men became followers of Paul and believed." Every city Paul entered, he studied the culture, and presented the Gospel in a way that specific region of people can most easily be reached for the Kingdom of God.

What message do you glean from Jesus’ example of a primary customer?  Eric Geiger in his blog Lead the Many by Focusing on a Few describes Jesus as having an intense focus on His disciples. A massive crowd gathered around Jesus, so much so that people were trampling on one another. And Jesus “began to say to His disciples first” (Luke 12:1). Jesus’ first concern was not the crowd, but His disciples.  As Geiger points out, we would expect a pastor or leader to focus on the crowd and yet even Peter is either confused or feeling badly for the crowd as he states, “Lord are you telling this parable to us or to everyone?”  For Jesus, it was clear that these disciples would have an essential role in His redemption plan.  Was Jesus unconcerned for the non-Jews?  Absolutely not!  He went greatly out of His way to reach out to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). Yet, the vast majority of His ministry and teaching was geared to a niche group of people.  While God’s aim was to reach the entire world, His Son’s ministry was to accomplish this by primarily focusing on one specific people group.

Is it too exclusive for a church to focus on a primary customer?  My (Bruce) Anglo son regularly attends a predominately African American Converge church.  His pastor and my good friend Rod Hairston, most often uses preaching examples that those who grew up in a black American context would quickly identify with.  Does Rod care about my son? Absolutely!  He continues to pour into my son in ways I will be eternally grateful for.  Does this church desire to be multi-cultural and reach anyone that will come?  Yes! Will they pick country western worship songs to be more inclusive?  Probably not. All are welcomed, but they know who they are called to be.  Likewise, my wife and I are no longer spring chickens. (She still looks 20 something, but I am a clear cut 51-year-old!)  The way we are wired though, we would be more attracted to a church that has geared its worship and ministry to 20 somethings.  Would we be made to feel welcomed?  Yes, I believe they crave our wisdom and life experiences.  They might even create an empty nesters small group.  Yet we understand that in reaching millennials, they will do church differently than I once did as a founding pastor of a church.  All are welcome, but it is critical for a church to know where their primary focus is.   

If we look at examples throughout scripture, effective individual missionary practices, as well as entire missionary organizations, it is biblical and practical to identify a primary customer in your church or in your ministry organization.  

So how does having an identified primary customer impact church leadership?  This could certainly be a topic for future blogs; however, the targeted primary customer provides the church with a decision-making tool.  The identification of the primary customer can guide decisions about ministries that will no longer take place, what investments of time, talents, and resources will no longer be a focus, calendaring decision, and certainly budget decisions.  Which ministries, people, events, etc will most impact our primary customer?  No matter how large your church is, you will not reach the entire crowd; however, with careful planning you can impact lives of those whom will have a critical role in His redemption plan.  

Co-authored by Bruce Hopler and Duane D. Cox, Ed.D., Public School Principal, and Participant of one of Bruce’s Strat-Ops Planning Process

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