October is a big month at my house. Yesterday was baby’s birthday (not such a baby now!) and our 8 year wedding anniversary. Tomorrow is Harper’s birthday, mine is next week; many other extended family members have bdays this month, and then there’s that little thing called Halloween, and all the costumed, sugar-loaded revelry implied. It’s all had me thinking about invitations, the many types that we send and receive: snail mail, e-vite, or Facebook event; birthday, wedding, Halloween; formal, informal, festive; all hopefully to someplace fun and worthwhile.
The invitation to a gathering tells you a lot about what to expect, what to wear, what to bring… Should you take a gift? Wear a costume? Bring the kids, or get a sitter? Black tie or business casz? Even if the invitation does not carry the information explicitly, the style of invite and the type of event carry implicit messages about the gathering. I mean, you get an invite to a bachelor party–wait, boys don’t do invitations…ok, just pretend–you get an invite with an outline of a playboy girl and some clip art beer bottles, you will probably just infer that you don’t want to take your kids to that gig. You get a wedding invitation that features a “Wanted” poster with the bride and groom’s pic on it–let’s just assume you aren’t going to break out the black tie or the best Vera Wang for that event.
Faith communities utilize all manner of venues to invite people into worship and fellowship. And whether it is a paper-product, a social media tool, or just a spoken word, much can be conveyed about what to expect at the gathering, and WHO is meant to respond. Many churches seem to have a code language around their invitation materials…an implicit message that says, ‘you are welcome here, IF…’
Someone recently asked me what our “target demographic” is here at Foothills. Now, I’m familiar with the term, and I’ve got to say, in the context of ministry, it makes me uneasy. Because once you’ve identified a specific group of people or type of person that you want to attract…well, then what about everybody else? Who gets left out when a religious group tries to attract a certain kind of person or family?
The new m.o. of mega-church culture is to target the men. That’s right, they said it. Target the men, and the rest of the family will come. I mean, that’s fine, it’s whatever… except that it’s working. It’s working in overwhelming floods of people coming into worship. Some of whom know that they have been target-demographicked (yes, i made up that word) and some who may not realize. In any case, it’s fine to build a consumer product and gear it toward a specific group of people. From a marketing perspective, it works. Any consumer organization is entitled to answer demand in any way that works for them.
But from an evangelism perspective, my concern is for everybody else. Need i say, the women. Women who are not attached to a man who will bring them to church, or women who are not attached to a man period. What about men who do not have children/families to bring? What about grandparents raising grandchildren with no middle generation present at home? What about families with two moms or two dads? (yeah, i don’t think those 2 dads are in the target demographic of these places…). What about the person who is alone? The teenager who is the only person in the household who wants to go to worship? Where is the invitation for these folks?
So without meaning to be flip, I answered just that: I said that our target demographic is everybody else. I hadn’t thought through that answer, but it came to me quickly, a very spirit-filled sort of memo, so i’m sticking with it. Our target demographic is everybody else. “Else” meaning those who, for whatever reason, have not quite been included—implicitly or otherwise—in the invitations to other places. Our target demo also includes the people who share in the work of inviting everybody else. And the people who realize that, when you come right down to it, we are ALL ‘everybody else.’
This year, October is even more exciting for me than usual. This October, Foothills Christian Church formally identifies itself as an “Open and Affirming” congregation. Nothing implicit about it, that means we invite all people regardless of age, race, gender, sexual identity, economic status, faith heritage or ability. It means we don’t hate on gay people, or instruct women on their proper “place.” It means we don’t teach anti-Jew or anti-Muslim sentiment. It means that single parents, blended families, grandparents raising grandkids, and families with two moms or two dads are fully included in the life of faith. It means that people with questions, and even doubt, are embraced as part of community.
In the spirit of all that i have to celebrate this month, I am proud to be a part of this gathering; where attire is comfortable, gifts are welcome but not required, and you can most definitely bring the kids. We will use every manner of communication available to us–print, social media, projected image, spoken word–to get the invitation out to our neighbors. And regardless of who may respond, everybody is on this guest list.