Cast Your Nets!
Do you remember the 1980s advertising campaign with the slogan, “Not your father’s Oldsmobile”? Hoping to catch the attention of the next generation, the automaker created a snappy slogan to shake the dust off their well-known name.
For those of us serving in legacy ministries, change can be hard, uncomfortable, or even seem impossible. We don’t want to risk losing loyal supporters just to keep up with the times. In his Forbes article, “No Change, No Gain: How to Avoid Being a Change-Averse Organization,” Edward Tuorinsky said, “Change-averse organizations don’t change until the pain of staying the same becomes worse than the pain of changing. “
Adapting to reach an audience is not a new message for Christ followers.
Adapting to reach an audience is not a new message for Christ followers. However, we don’t just do this for the numbers. The apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23).
Taking risks was a trademark of turn-of-the-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody who reached more than 100 million people with the gospel. At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, while most Christians wanted to boycott, Moody rented a huge circus tent (used during daytime hours for questionable acts) to host his evangelistic meetings. “Let us open so many preaching places and present the gospel so attractively,” Moody said, “that people will want to come and hear it.”
Clearly, we have an important message to share, but the way forward may sometimes seem murky. Here are three things that can help shape your “we need to change” process.
What are you doing?
As you begin, ask yourself, “How do we articulate our key purpose?” Examine the core of who you are with fresh eyes. Bring new and seasoned team members to the table for this important conversation.
The focus of our team is Today in the Word, a daily Bible study devotional now in its 33rd year. Surveys revealed that the devotional was well loved and current readers wanted it to remain the same. While this was good news, it did produce a dilemma. How could we reach a new audience without rocking the boat?
Questions to ask:
- What is our central purpose?
- What are we known for?
- What would we like to be known for?
- What must stay the same?
- What is open to change?
We asked ourselves, “Do we need to be a daily devotional?” Lifeway research revealed that only 11 percent of Americans read their Bible daily. Was our goal to be daily in the Word? Or did that not matter? Some questions can be answered through research. Others require surveys or focus groups. Even if you land on no change at all, you will gain a stronger and clearer understanding of your goals.
Who are you reaching?
In John 21, the disciples were fishing with no success. Jesus called out to them saying, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” The result? “They were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish” (v. 6). Most of us have a loyal audience that we are used to nurturing. Asking the Lord for his leading, what if we cast our nets on the other side of the boat?
Questions to ask:
- Who are we currently reaching?
- Who are we not reaching?
- Who would benefit from our product or ministry?
- Which group is the least reached or most in need?
- Who are we most able to reach?
To “cast our net” to new audiences, we refreshed the look of our content, embraced a more informal tone, and updated the delivery methods.
At Today in the Word, we began to identify and target new audiences. To “cast our net” to new audiences, we refreshed the look of our content, embraced a more informal tone, and updated the delivery methods. We introduced a Spanish translation and experimented with a student-led devotional to reach their peers. Not every potential audience made our final list. Not every effort was a success. However, we have seen our numbers increase. Remember, as one ministry, you aren’t solely responsible for reaching our world for Jesus. Yet, together we are widening the net of the gospel.
How will you do it?
You are probably facing the same issues we faced. We wanted to do more and reach more people, but we faced rising costs and limits on time, budget, and staffing. How could we do more good without the “more”?
Questions to ask:
- Where do we currently devote resources (monetary and staff)?
- Where is funding most needed?
- What could we stop doing or do differently?
- Can we use digital means to reach a new audience?
- Who could we partner with to accomplish our goals?
For us, the “how” involved embracing digital delivery. At the start of the pandemic, we launched an app. God’s timing was perfect. People were more isolated than ever before and seeking anything to encourage them; we saw a significant gain in readership. The app, and enhancing our website, also opened doorways to new readers and even new countries. Suddenly we had an audience in the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, India and elsewhere.
The other creative approach we took to solve our “more with less” situation was to engage in ministry partnerships. By joining forces with Prison Fellowship and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, we were able to deliver our biblical content to their ministry audiences. This was a positive outcome for both of us, and we are seeing many come to know Jesus.
Making change is not easy. It is even harder when you are turning the entire ship of a ministry organization. However, we have found new life and new excitement in this journey. We continue to pray that God will direct us as we use our skills to expand his kingdom.
Since I am a devotional editor, I will end with a prayer for growth:
We want to grow because
Our heart beats for the gospel.
We want ALL people to know you
And receive your life-changing gift of salvation.
We are humbled and honored to work on your behalf.
Keep us free from self-centered ambition.
Don’t let us ever think the numbers are all about us.
Guard us from becoming complacent, fishing only on one side of the boat.
Inspire, revive, motivate, and prod us.
Lead us into fruitful new waters and give us courage to throw the net.
Let us be faithful day in and day to deliver your truth.
May everything we write, say, and do bring honor and glory to you.
Jamie Janosz is Managing Editor of Today in the Word, a devotional from Moody Bible Institute. She holds degrees from Moody Bible Institute, Columbia College, and Illinois State University and is the author of When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up (Moody Publishers, 2014.)