October 1, 2014

Church Planters: Know Your Niche Market

Our church plant is attempting to reach a niche market, and I’ll tell you what it is later, but first…

A young church planter from the UK currently in Oz exploring his options, made the remark to me yesterday that in his early years (still thought he was in those – Methuselah Ed), he fell into the trap of looking for his church plant niche market.

If we’re honest we all did.  Eight or so years ago when church planting was the new black the vibe was that we were to try and discover a tribe that needed the gospel here in the West, and pitch ourselves towards that.  People were doing household/skater/hipster/ church – or were planning to. They were narrowcasting their energies, focussing their vision, and directing and preparing their people towards that niche whether their people had any real connection to it or not.

Don’t have a connection? We’ll make a connection! We’ll live authentically enough – or change ourselves to do so – in order to reach *FILL IN THE BLANK*  (that’s a recipe for burn out btw).

Sound familiar?  Read those books?  Written those blog posts?  In hindsight I believe that such a move wasted a whole of time and energy, time and energy that the average church planter – much less his or her team – did not have.

Now, granted, sometimes churches end up being filled with a whole lot of people the same.  Take a unichurch for example.  But that’s the point.  Plant a church on a university campus and students are not a niche culture, they are the culture. No one is silly enough to plant on a uni campus aiming to reach only Engineering students, or Arts students or whatever.  (If you are actually trying to do that, stop reading now, open window, scream, then come back and finish reading).  The same is true of reaching significant migrant populations in certain sectors of cities.  Urban mission tells us that a whole district can become a Italian/Chinese/Turkish district, and if it does, then any church plant in that district is no longer niche.  For all intents and purposes it’s just a stay-at-home version of overseas mission to a dominant culture, be that Italy, China or Turkey.

So – the 64 dollar question – what is the niche market of our church?  Our niche market is “sinners”. I believe that should be the niche market of all churches that have been established by Jesus Christ.  We’re trying to reach sinners.  We’ve got a message of grace and hope for sinners.  We’ve already reached a whole bunch of sinners, saved by grace, who know even from their present experience that sin has a strong pull on our lives. More to the point we are sinners who ourselves have been reached by the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus. Our people don’t need to be cross cultural when it comes to sin – they’re natives! Before Jesus rescued them and took them to Graceland, they lived in Sinland.  And when I am preaching or teaching or counselling I don’t need to think long and hard about how the gospel might reach its power out to a sinner, I just think about how it did it, is doing it, and will continue to do exactly that in my own life.

Some sinners skate.  Some sinners study.  Some sinners skate AND study.  Some sinners eat three square meals a day, work in an office and come home to a partner and their children.  Some sinners are unemployed/young/old/middle-aged.  Some are depressed.  Others are fairly relaxed and happy.  ALL sinners need Jesus and his grace. Since we’re on about showcasing Jesus and his grace, then “Bingo!”, there’s our niche market sorted out.

Any other form of niche market ministry can be a great servant, but end up being a terrible master. The beauty of the gospel is that it works best when showcased as a multi-faceted diamond that, over time, can be turned in all its different directions to shine its light on all cultures, all ages, all sins, all niches.

Let’s leave the last word to St Paul who, as a Jewish Pharisee from the tribe of Benjamin, educated at the feet of the best religious teacher of his day, knew a niche market when he saw one:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.   (1Timothy 1:15)

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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