Introducing (drum roll, please) my first ever blog series! That’s right, you can hear me rant in installments!
I ought to give the series a lightening rod title, something like “Why Demographic-Based Ministries are Stupid.” But I hate taking positions that I can’t defend, so you, dear reader, will have to forgive the careful title.
I’ll say it: demographic-based ministry within the local church probably has its place. But it’s a small place.
Using demographics as a the basic divider for small groups/care groups/shepherding groups/core groups/cell groups/grace groups/whatever your church calls them groups- those basic groups that are designed to provide teaching and fellowship to the church- is a lousy idea. (See, despite the title, I’m willing to speak my mind.)
Today, I’ll look at the most obvious reason to ditch DBM.
Lots of people don’t fit neatly in a demographic, and DBM ignores their needs and gifts and generally treats those people as less.
Demographic-based ministries assume a basic pattern:
1) four-year college right after high school (college group)
2) two to seven years of singleness (singles group)
3) marriage and a five-year honeymoon (young marrieds class)
4) one baby and then three years later another (young families group).
Then you’re shuttled into a mid-life class, or maybe parents of teens class, then empty nesters class, then Senior Saints.
But what if you go overseas for a few years before college? Do you keep going to college group until you’re thirty?
What if you are still having babies while your oldest child is in high school? Are you parents of teens? Or a young family?
What if you’re married for a long time with no children? Do you stay in “young marrieds” until you can produce a child?
I remember visiting a church that had neatly divided its Sunday Schools by age. I wondered, as I browsed the bulletin, if you’re a 33 year-old married to a 45-year old, can you go with him to the “40-55” group? Can he come to your “30-40” Sunday school class? Do you go to different classes?
Obviously, bigger churches can offer more groups, but no congregation can have a group for every demographic. Most churches choose to make groups for only a few demographics and just ignore the rest.
I attend a church that for a long time offered college group (capped at age 24), and then a singles group for people in their 40s and 50s. What were 25-39 year-olds who weren’t married supposed to do? They couldn’t join young marrieds or young families groups. The result was that most people in that demographic left the church. The church was poorer for it.
The leadership would probably say that there weren’t enough people in that demographic to start a ministry for them. Do people only start to matter when there are at least a dozen others like them? And why would “enough” people in that demographic join a church with no place for them?
I agree that there probably weren’t enough people to make a small group of 25-39 year-old singles. That’s my point. They should have been welcomed into groups that were centered around Christ, not demographics. But being Christ-centered is another whole post about questioning DBM. I have not yet begun to rant type!