This is my new blog about using MissionInsite for community research and church development, available exclusively to ACST and MissionInsite subscribers. I hope you will join regularly to explore how churches can become relevant to the people within their reach.
What is a “Lifestyle Segment” and Why Should I Care?
I vividly remember the first time I was introduced to the concept of “lifestyle segments.” In about 2003, I met the founders of MissionInsite in a hotel meeting room at Houston airport. Until that time, all I knew about demographics was that it involved enormous amounts of abstract statistics that were nearly impossible to interpret, much less apply, to rapidly changing communities and church ministries.
Then, for the first time, I saw the “Lifestyle Portraits” created by companies like Experian to aid strategic planners for all kinds of institutions (schools, hospitals, shopping malls, real estate developers, emergency and social services, and more). It was like the sun came out from behind the clouds!
A good portrait by a skilled artist captures the heart and mind–the very “essence” of an individual. Looking at a great portrait, you can look into their soul and readily imagine how they spoke, moved, and behaved. A “Lifestyle Portrait” does the same thing for a group of people. The digital tracking that emerged with the internet…a world of credit and debit…allows companies to compile data associated with any given person’s physical address. This is compared with the behavior of others, filtered through categories of age, income, occupation, race, etc., to create a visual and virtual “picture” of groups of people with similar attitudes, habits, and goals. Looking at the description of a “Lifestyle Segment,” you can see into the heart and mind, the very essence, of a group of people.
These “lifestyle portraits” were designed for use by secular institutions and agencies. With my very first glimpse in that Houston meeting room, however, I realized that the same data could be used to anticipate ministry expectations and interpret the spiritual journeys of distinct groups of people. It could also explain why some adaptive changes for church growth were more stressful than others and why some clergy succeeded in one church and struggled in another.
When I discovered the concept of “Lifestyle Portraits,” Experian had defined 40 distinct “lifestyle segments” in America. (They were doing the same in other countries. For example, Canada had about 43). Today there are 71 segments, and the interaction between segments can be further explained by 19 “Lifestyle Groups.” Soon there will be a new iteration of lifestyle segments by Experian that will likely define even more diversity.
Lifestyle segmentation rendered obsolete the old generalizations based on age, gender, race, education, marriage and family status, etc. We used to talk about “youth groups,” assuming that “youth” all thought alike, behaved alike, and viewed religion and the church alike. We know that there are about 45 lifestyle segments that include high proportions of youth between 12 and 18. Each thinks, behaves, and believes differently…and some “youth” don’t get along with other “youth.” The Sunday night “Youth Group” era has come to an end, and the era of multiple affinity-based small groups for youth has emerged!
The same diversity…with the same impact on ministries…can be said about gender, family, educated adults, occupations, and so on. “Women’s” and “Men’s” Groups, “traditional” or “contemporary” worship services, unified stewardship programs, and so many other one-size-fits-all ministries are of the past. Church leaders used to speak glibly about the “black” church and “Hispanic” or “Latino” experience. Today there are over 30 distinct lifestyle segments that include high proportions of African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans…and each has subtly different social and religious attitudes, personal and family goals, and expectations of as well as frustrations with the church. We have entered a “multi-choice” world!
The impact of lifestyle segmentation on the church is not just about style, technology, formal or informal dress, musical taste, and so on. It goes deeper than that. The “portrait” reveals the soul. With a combination of research, listening, and prayer, church leaders, can connect with different spiritual yearnings. Preachers can better focus their sermons. Musicians can better choose relevant music. Educators can develop more effective methods and identify hot topics. Fundraisers can diversify financial appeals.
Each lifestyle segment seeks to experience God’s grace in different ways. Some gravitate toward Christ, the healer. Others seek Christ, the teacher, guide, vindicator, rescuer, promise keeper, personal and social transformer. Similarly, clergy can personify God’s grace in different ways…and are therefore more effective in distinct communities. Some clergy are born teachers; others advocate for justice; still others are mentors, visionaries, disciples, or healers. The essence of a lifestyle segment connects with the essence of the spiritual leader.
This is what diversity in ministry is all about. It’s about different kinds of blessings for different kinds of seekers, facilitated by the right spiritual leaders in relevant ways. MissionInsite helps you navigate this new world.
I welcome any and all questions about using MissionInsite for ministry planning and leadership development. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see other related blogs by Tom Bandy, please visit Church Growth.