Know Your Audience


by Rev. Taylor Ishii
Church of the Apostles, Eastern Shore

One principle of good communication is to know your audience. I remember once teaching in a youth group setting and using 9/11 as an example of a moment where time seemed to stand still. I then asked the students if they remembered where they were on 9/11. I got nods from the adults in the room, but blank stares from the teenagers. Then I realized that many of the students were still in diapers when 9/11 occurred. Had I been teaching their parents or my peers, the illustration would have worked, but I hadn’t properly discerned my audience.

In a similar sense, one principle of good missional engagement as the church is to know your neighborhood. This is not just asking us to be ‘seeker sensitive,’ but to realize that the culture and cultures in our surrounding communities all have an effect on how people interact with our church. Yes, only the Holy Spirit can change hearts, but even Jesus used examples in his teaching that connected with the cultural context of his day. Knowing your community can help you discern bridges and points of connection with the Kingdom of God in your midst.

I recently read an excellent blog from the Fuller Seminary Youth Institute about how the shifting trends in ethnic demographics will affect youth ministry. While the exact demographics will vary based on your zip code, the trends for the current generation of teenagers (Gen Z as they are called) is toward greater ethnic diversity. There is a good chance the teenagers in your congregations have many more friends of a different ethnic group than their parents.

If the neighborhoods around us are changing, do we know what that change looks like? Since 2020 is a census year, there will be all sorts of new data on your communities soon. This website tracks demographic change in the school system over time. If our schools are much more ethnically diverse than they used to be, where are those families going to church if they go to church at all?

Think about it, these are the people that we have an opportunity to love and partner with for the sake of the Gospel. We also know that globally, the Anglican church is thriving, so it’s not as if the liturgy is a byproduct of majority white culture. Do our churches reflect the ethnic diversity around us? And if they don’t, are we willing to ask why not? 

I know of an Anglican church in Los Angeles that was planted by two white co-pastors in a largely Hispanic neighborhood. When they gather to celebrate the feast days of the saints, they do it with mariachi bands and taco trucks instead of your ‘typical’ church hot dish pot luck. They have intentionally sought out Hispanic leadership in their church and want to be a church for their community. They know who is in their community and are sharing the love of Christ with them. How could we do this better in our communities?

Challenge: has your church recently done a demographic study of your community/schools? If you haven't, that's a good place to start. As Christians, it's vital that we continue to pray that God might help us minister to the communities around us.