Targeting for Evangelism

On the surface, the notion of “targeting” people might seem suspect – even wrong. But the truth is, targeting specific kinds of people for evangelism is a biblical principle – and one that’s as old as the New Testament. When a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to minister to her demon-possessed daughter he publicly stated that the Father had told him to focus on “the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:22-28). Although Jesus went ahead and healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter because of her faith, he publicly identified his ministry target: the Jews. This was not his idea. It came from the Father.

Earlier, in Matthew 10, Jesus had instructed the disciples to target their ministry also. Was he being unfair or prejudiced? Certainly not! Jesus targeted his ministry in order to be effective, not to be exclusive.

Both Paul and Peter are also models of a targeted ministry. Paul targeted his ministry to Gentiles and Peter targeted his ministry to Jews. (Gal. 2:7)

The Great Commission tells us to make disciples of “all nations.” The Greek word ta ethne from which we derive the word “ethnic” refers literally to “all people groups.” Each of these unique people groups will need an evangelistic strategy that communicates the Gospel in terms their specific culture can understand. That’s targeting!

Want a more current example? In March of 1995, Billy Graham’s crusade from Puerto Rico was broadcasted simultaneously in 116 languages to audiences around the world. The message was the same, but it was translated into each country’s language and pre-recorded, and culturally-appropriate music and testimonies were dubbed into the broadcast. More than one billion people heard the Gospel in languages, music, and testimonies that matched the people in each group. It was the greatest example of targeted evangelism in history!

The practice of evangelistic targeting is especially important to small churches. In a small church, with limited resources, it’s vital that you focus what resources you have on reaching the people your church can best communicate with. You can’t afford to offer as many options as Billy Graham’s broadcast did.

Small churches must make tough choices over issues like choosing the style of music. Since it’s impossible to appeal to everyone’s taste in a single service and small churches can’t offer multiple services, they must choose a target.

Larger churches have the resources to go after multiple targets. The larger your church becomes the more you’ll be able to offer choices in programs, events, and even worship style. When Saddleback began, we only focused on young, unchurched, white-collar couples. That was because they were the largest group in the Saddleback valley and that’s who I related to best. But as our church has grown, we’ve added ministries that target young adults, single adults, Hispanic, Vietnamese, and Korean speaking people, prisoners, the elderly, parents with ADD children, and many other target groups as well.

How do you define your target? Targeting for evangelism begins with finding out all you can about your community. There are four specific ways to do this:

Geographically – This simply means identifying where the people live that you want to reach. Get a map of your city and mark your church’s location. Estimate a 15 to 20-minute drive in each direction from your church and mark those as borders of your primary ministry area. This is your “evangelistic fishing pond.” Using the zip codes included in your boundaries, your county government can tell you exactly how many people live within a reasonable driving distance of your church.

Demographically – Not only do you need to know how many people live in your area, you need to know what type of people live there. First, let me warn you: Don’t overdo demographic research! The only critical demographic facts you need to discover about the people in your community are: age, marital status, income, education, and occupation.

Each of these factors will influence how you minister and the style of communication you use to share the Good News. If you’re serious about having your church make an impact, become an expert on your community.

Culturally – This is the lifestyle and mindset of those who live around your church: the values, interests, hurts, and fears of people. Within your community exist many subcultures. To reach each of these groups you need to discover how they think. What are their interests? What do they value? Where do they hurt? What are they afraid of? What are the most prominent features of the way people live around here? What are the most popular radio stations? The more you know about your target, the easier it will be to reach those people.

Spiritually – Find out what those in your target area already know about the Gospel. You might interview other pastors in the area to get a consensus on the spiritual climate of your community. Pastors who’ve served a dozen years in a community should be very aware of local issues and spiritual trends in an area.

Once you’ve collected all the information on your community, I encourage you to create a composite profile of the typical unchurched person your church wants to reach. Combining the characteristics of residents in your area into a single, mythical person will make it easier for members of your church to understand who your target is. If you’ve done a good job at collecting information, your members will recognize this mythical person as their next door neighbor!

Can you imagine a photographer shooting pictures without taking the time to focus? What deer hunter would stand on top of a hill and shoot randomly into the valley without taking aim at something? Without a target, our efforts at evangelism are often only wishful thinking. It takes time to focus and aim, but it also pays off. The more your target is in focus, the more likely you will be able to hit it.

Until next week,

This article was adapted from Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Church.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th Century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for ministers. Copyright 2005, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Adapted from Rick Warren's Ministry ToolBox, a free weekly e-newsletter for pastors and church leaders, available at