Market segmentation in Paul’s strategy to announce the Gospel

St. Paul delivering the Areopagus Sermon in Athens, by Raphael, 1515

Jesus had commanded them to go and announce his Divine Message to all the world, to every creature.  Paul took this commandment to heart.  He had grown up as a devout Jew.  His family had been wealthy and had not spared resources in the education of the young man.  He was originally from Tarsus, capital over the Roman province of Cilicia, a cultural and intellectual center where stoic philosophers like Athenodorus, Zeno, Antipater and Nestor lived in the first century AD.  His cultural and intellectual formation had given the young Saul the resources to eventually become very versatile among the different groups he would present The Way, as it was called.  “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some”  (1 Cor. 9:22)  And so he could say, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews… to those who are without law, like one without the law – not being without God’s law but within Christ’s law – to win those without the law.”  (1 Cor. 9:20-21)  And so Paul shows us how important it is to adapt the message to the type of audience one encounters.  We see him doing this as he announces the message to the greeks in Athens.  Again we see him adapting the message as he announces it to the Jews in Jerusalem.   Different cultures, different presentation.

And yet, he would specialize and focus his efforts to a specific kind of audience.  He chose the audience he would connect best with and have greatest success and impact.  “On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised.” (Gal. 2:7)  This is what I call being smart in doing the work of the Lord.

A few years ago, while working in a parish with two other brother priests, we tried to measure the impact of our preaching with the congregation.  Through a simple survey, we asked people to rate not only the impact of our message but also to include a simple profile about themselves, their age range, cultural heritage, etc.  We discovered that each one of us had his niche.  Fr. Shane, the younger priest, was most effective with teenagers and young adults in their twenties.  Fr. Helio, of Mexican origen, was most effective with the Mexican crowd in their thirties and forties.  I, the oldest of the priests, was most effective with the older crowd.  None of us was absolutely a better preacher.  The message resonated best with different audiences.  So, it was normal to think of segmenting the congregation for greater effectiveness.

This is what in more technical terms is called market segmentation.  It is the idea that through research we can empirically define the characteristics of a group of people to the degree that we can even create a typical picture and a name.  This is what in marketing is called a persona.  We can create personas to better understand the decision making process of the people we serve and so adapt our language and presentation to them.  As a Church we are to be as versatile as we can so as to achieve greater effectiveness.

On the other hand, we have the limitations of the individual apostle.  We can try to be as versatile as we can, but eventually we will find that we can connect better with certain type of people.  Hence, we are also to think about which personas we will be most effective with.

This question has to eventually come up:  What type of people are you called to serve?  The answer?  Look yourself in the mirror.  You will be most effective reaching people like yourself.  Do you want to reach intellectuals?  Then you better become an intellectual.  Do you want to reach high achievers?  Then you better become a high achiever.  Do you want to reach people with great leadership skills?  Then you better become a highly qualified leader.  Look at your cultural background.  Do you want to reach highly cosmopolitan people?  Then, you better have a cosmopolitan culture.  The better your formation, the better qualified you will be to reach people.

Discussion Questions

1.  If I were to segment my flock or the people God has entrusted to me, what would that look like?  What personas could I identify?

2.  What approach would I devise to effectively reach out the the two key personas from my flock?

3.  What persona am I most effective with?  How would I describe it?

4.  How can I form myself better to effectively minister to the key persona I am called to minister?

5.  How can I improve my versatility?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s