Do You Have An Abercrombie Church?

May 29, 2013

Hey friends, it’s good to be back after a long break to visit Moody Publishers in Chicago!  I had a blast touring the campus and doing radio interviews.  I’m so proud to be a part of what they are doing.  

PSA: I’ve decided that for the next few weeks, I’m going to reduce my posts to just Wednesdays.  It’s not forever.  But for over four years, I’ve posted three times a week, and after Life After Art’s first incredibly busy couple of months, I need to recharge my batteries a bit.  I don’t want to get completely out of the groove, so I’ll still see you here once a week.

Now, let’s get into it.

1368072010483_842_21xFDin7ambf1_0_0I’ve been watching the controversy surrounding Abercrombie and Fitch the last couple of weeks.

First, CEO Mike Jeffries made some comments which confirmed what everyone knows: that they don’t actually want most of us wearing their clothes.  That backfired.

Then, Greg Karber tried to make a clever statement by giving used A&F clothes to homeless people.  A lot of us (including me, I admit) thought at first glance that it was a cool idea, until we looked closer and realized it wasn’t.  That backfired too.

No one appreciated Jeffries’ bold honesty about his company’s vision.  So, what does a clothing store for the coolest kids in school have to say to churches?  Maybe more than we might think.

Not My Style

I’ll be honest.  Abercrombie and Fitch is not marketing to me.

I don’t feel comfortable entering the Abercrombie store at our local mall.  Hell, I don’t feel comfortable walking past the Abercrombie store.  Something about the oversized photos of half naked models in the entrance clues me in that I don’t belong there.  I never was part of the crowd that they are going after, and I never will be.

But I also get the feeling that I’m not the target market of Hollister.  Or Hot Topic.  Or Gantos.  Or Forever 21.

I think I’m part of Kohl’s target market.

Think about it.  Every store has a target market, a specific niche of people who they want to buy their products.  There’s nothing special about Abercrombie’s strategy.  It’s just that when their CEO admits what is usually implied in such a crass and cavalier fashion, it offends our desire for inclusiveness.  It’s hurtful to people like me (and I’m guessing perhaps you) who aren’t “cool” enough to be included.

Homogenized, Pasteurized Friends

Now, let’s ask a tough question, and get ready to be honest.

Who is in your target market?  Like, as the CEO of your life, what niche of people are you generally spending your time with?

I’d like to think that my target market is pretty diverse and inclusive, but the results show otherwise.

I’ll go first and admit that my friend-group is pretty darn homogenous.  My close friends come from generally the same socio-economic level, have about the same amount of education, and behave in a way that I find, in general, socially acceptable.

At times, I have tried to be inclusive.  But there are many more times when I have not.  I have taken a step back.  I have withheld myself from people because they are a little too different from me in one way or another.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I realize that my target audience is people who are sort of like me.  Maybe that makes me a horrible person.  If that’s the case, then maybe my target audience is horrible people.

The _________ Church

Now, let’s ask another tough question.

Who is our churches’ target audiences?  Can we really say “everyone?”  Why do so many of our churches looks so homogenous then?  Even if your church bucks the trend and looks pretty diverse, is there someone who would have a hard time fitting in at your church?

Is it that homeless man who hasn’t had a shower or clean clothes in months?  Is it the mentally ill woman?  The guy with the left-field theology?  The family with the special needs child?  The teen mom?  The alcoholic?  The guy with the “alternate” lifestyle?

It’s a struggle that churches have had since the New Testament was still being written – how do we help people belong who don’t usually belong?  The alternative is to admit that, on some level, we are running Abercrombie churches:

where of course everyone is equally welcome…

…but some people are more equally welcome than others.

So what do you say?  How diverse is your friend-group?  How diverse is your church?  Who do you think is your church’s target audience?  Tell us success stories

24 responses to Do You Have An Abercrombie Church?

  1. Having a fairly homogenous group of friends is pretty much human nature–any communication/group dynamics text will tell you that. It isn’t necessarily something to be ashamed of as long as you’re not being a jerk about it, in my opinion.

    However, the same tendency shouldn’t apply to church. Reading your post reminded me of this book ( (It’s a fave of mine–I recommend reading it if you get the chance.)

    The author had a difficult time with his church as a teenager (and winds up leaving), and in one part he talks about facing rejection and failing to fit in at church camp, and how that felt even worse than being rejected anywhere else. He talks about already failing to fit in at school and being at odds with his family, but church camp (in theory) should be the one place where even the oddballs have a place–and being left out there winds up feeling like he’s been rejected by God Himself.

    It’s human nature to cluster with our own “kind”, but it’s a tendency that I think all Christians should fight to purge from ourselves.

    • Abby – you are totally right. The thing is, I was even embarrassed to admit the state of my friend group because I think it’s popular to believe that somehow we have trumped our natural tendencies and now hang out with mini United Nations. And there is that tension that we are supposed to be working through. People like to cluster with their kind. So how to we include the person who is a complete outlier?

      • How to include the outliers? Well, I think not pulling the kind of crap going on at Helen’s church would be a good place to start.

        Seriously, though–I’ve been reading a few other blogs frequented by folks who either have left the church, or are unhappy in it, or thinking of leaving or whatever, and if there’s any common theme to any of the stories I’ve come across it’s this: more often than not, what drives people away from the church, what alienates and divides us all has *nothing* to do with Christ.

        Jesus never actually said anything about who to vote for, which celebrity pastor’s books to buy, what to think about the latest hot-button issue, what college to attend, what women should be allowed to wear, or where to buy your fried chicken. He didn’t even have a mission statement or a business model (gasp!) And yet, how many people are getting shut out of their church over such trivialities? More than some folks would like to think.

        So, I think what we, as Christians, need to do is this: go back to our one and only commandment–cut the crap and love people. You’d think that would be a relatively easy concept to grasp.

        • I like your point! As a “Christian,” I have been considering leaving “the church” for about a year now, and I’m pretty sure I will stop going sometime soon (I’ve only been going to the group studies for the past 6 months). I have voiced this to several people in various churches: I don’t feel like the Church is very loving. And I have tried several different churches: From conservative, to hipster, from old to college-age, from “truth-focused” to “grace-focused”, etc. Maybe I feel excluded b/c I’m a woman of color, a first generation American, politically liberal, a feminist, or…. OR maybe I feel excluded b/c I hear how they speak about people that are outside the church (“They are just not seeking. They’re not submissive. They live in sin. They need to come back. If they can’t see the truth, that’s not my problem. I hope their eyes are opened to the truth. They need to stop disobeying God. God has just not chosen them. ETCETERA!) and I feel like I identify with the person they are talking about.
          And maybe I (and people like me) are the problem… maybe we just “like” to play the victim and feel like we’re excluded or whatever. But personally, I’m tired of people saying we need to try harder. I’ve tried for 6 years now, I’ve tried about 5 different churches and 3 different Christian college groups, and ALL have felt the same way: “If you’re not like me, sorry, I’m just not interested in getting to know you and caring for you.” Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s them. Either way, I’ve tried pretty hard and I’m ready to cut my ties.
          I will say tho…. I don’t think we should be just fine with only being “friends” with people that are like us. It may be “natural” but it’s a limitation, it’s something we can grow in.

  2. This reminds me of teaching at a small Christian school where a few fellow teachers sought out the popular students. All staff were required to share devotions at one point, so when it was my turn I shared about how we should seek out the kid sitting alone at lunch. A fellow teacher told me after I spoke it was great how we all have these different callings. I just nodded, and looked for a wall to beat my head against.

    • :) I’m glad you are called to sit with the uncool kids! *facepalm*

    • I know you mean well, but as a kid that spent a lot of lunchtimes alone, I can think of nothing more mortifying than being “reached out” to. I didn’t have a ton of friends as a kid, so one year most of my friends were in a different lunch period, so JRR Tolkien happened to be a better companion then. I was not particularly lonely or depressed. To be honest, having some well-meaning teacher treating me like a missions project would’ve just creeped me out.

      • That’s a good point. I was surely a quiet kid too, and my wife is the same. It takes a really sensitive person to have a delicate enough touch with reaching out to people like that, and to know when enough is enough.

  3. Matt, you are writing about a problem that has been hurting my heart for over a year. “Highers up” in my Church have been worse than unwelcoming to a young man. His issue? Tatoos, brawn, and a bit of a glazed look in his eyes. But TALK to this man who looks like a burn out bouncer, and you meet a sweet man with disabilities. Just because he LOOKS like a bouncer, doesn’t mean he’d harm anyone. There are MANY of us who great him warmly with hugs, so it SHOULD be obvious to anyone afraid that he is harmless. But no, they actually have gotten to the point of asking him to leave because he makes people uncomfortable. (I have loudly proclaimed that I’m uncomfortable with the way he is being treated and not with him, and am treated myself like a naive child….) I know the question is why not just leave, but how will things change if those of us who see this as wrong (and there IS a group of us) leave? This Church will still stand, and the occasional square peg will still show up, but no one will be there to hug him and tell him that in God’s kingdom, HE fits in perfectly, and those who would cast him out are the REAL outsiders.
    Thanks for letting me vent. This is actually one of the reasons I haven’t blogged in months. THIS is what is laying on my heart (and raising my blood pressure), and I have no idea how to blog about it an intelligent rather than emotional matter. Thanks for doing so!
    Helen recently posted..Life as an Advent Calendar Update 2

  4. I’ve spent most of my life, in one of those churches. The kinds of churches that look to business models, seek out leadership lessons, and try to gather a group of people together to “do community together” but at the end of the day could just be staring in a mirror for all the sameness of it all. And then the judgement start, because since we are all “the same” it is much easier to find a hierarchy, to see who is doing a better job at “being a Christian.” Sigh.

    Our current church, our church of the past few years is so refreshingly different. I sometimes need to read something like this to remind me of how special it is. When you go to a church with over 40 different ethnicities/nationalities represented, there is no “us” anymore – not in the way I thought before.

    I say this because it doesn’t have to be the norm. That vision you wrote about at the end where everyone has a place at the table? That can be reality! We can work intentionally to be part of the greater Kingdom diversity here in the now. It’s hard, it takes work, it gets SO MESSY. But it is beautiful. I can’t imagine raising my children in any other church.

    • That’s incredible – and you are right – exceedingly rare. I’m not the guy who knows how to build bridges like that. But I read something like Romans an see that when different people come together in peace, God is glorified.

  5. Lots of great points. The thing I find ironic is these comments Jeffries made were from an interview in 2006 – I wonder what brought them to light now? We’re giving him totally free advertising the more we talk about him and his company but how can we not? Here’s a tough question. Do we want to market our churches to jerks like Jeffries? He clearly needs Christ. His comments didn’t change my opinions of his clothes. I’ve never shopped there, even when I was thin. I’m like you, I don’t even want to see his ads. I have to wonder now if those who do wear the clothes will feel a bit of backlash? The huge splashed logo across every item might give us a chance to have an open dialogue with someone. I’d like to think that a large part of his targeted audience will think twice before they wear the clothing.

  6. There must be something to that old adage “Birds of a feather flock together.” I have to admit my friend group currently is very different than I am but I have the advantage of living where there is no one like me. If I’m going to have friends then they aren’t like me.

    I have a pastor friend who structured his church to minister to a certain group of people in a very focused way. His thinking is if I focus on this group I can serve them better, more completely than a catch all mentality. When they have new comers that return for a few visits he likes to meet with them and see how the church is meeting their needs. If it seems the church is missing the mark and it’s appropriate he may suggest introducing them to another pastor/church that is a better fit. He has never had a bad experience with this. The other pastor/church appreciates the contact. The person appreciates the willingness of my friend to serve them by finding them a good place to worship.

    It’s weird and non-traditional for sure but, for him, it works.

  7. I could have easily chose to have a homogenous group of friends through my adult life, but circumstances (attending Notre Dame, living in Kansas, Arizona) dictatcted that I reached out to people outside my African American Midwestern comfort zone and make friends. My Facebook friend list proves this :) I continue to learn a lot and enjoy understanding different life perspectives & experiences. I think it is a matter of just simply reaching out and talking to people, setting aside socio-economic status, educational background, politics and all that other stuff we tend to unintentionally use to place people into buckets :)

  8. How diverse is my friend group? Fairly diverse I would say. That’s partially because I have high school friends in western New York, and many other friends in Kansas where I presently live. Socio-economically, it’s across the board. That said there are some signs of homogeneity. Very few of my friends come from families where you can just buy whatever you want. In recent years my friends have become mostly Christians partially due to me moving away from my high school place to the midwest where Christianity is predominant. Most of my friends are also white, since again that is what’s predominant here.

    How diverse is my church? I don’t know, since I’m new to it! 😀

    What’s my church’s target age group? Probably 50+. Very traditional church. Not much in terms of reaching out to the young.
    Shawn recently posted..Made to Work

  9. Hi Matt. First time commenter here, Monte. The NT gospels seem to indicate that Jesus was really after Jews (Luke-Acts downplays this a touch), and then his disciples were supposed to break the social and cultural barriers. He comes off as almost racist in his initial interaction with the Syro-Phonecian woman. The disciples had a really hard time with the Jew-Gentile divide to where Paul had to confront Peter. In fact, the whole NT when you take a long gander at it is pretty dang Jewish. That didn’t seem to affect the church’s growth among Gentiles, though. My wife’s and my church is rather homogenous. It’s a bunch of pretty educated people from moderate to well-to-do homes. The diversity tends to lie in our college group. More races, socio-economic statuses, and political persuasions tend to constitute the group than the main sanctuary.

  10. We tend to hang out with people who are like ourselves, at least somewhat. That is “normal”.

    Nobody invites anyone to church (well, hardly ever) anyway…so where I worship it’s not too much of an issue.

    I’m one of the worst offenders.
    theoldadam recently posted..“The Word is near you; it is in your mouth and on your heart…”

  11. Said already how spot on your marketing analysis was, now on to the church.
    I’ve had a strange experience in which I felt not belonging to a place because of the style of worship if you allow me the word. I’m very introverted in general, so I am very introverted in praying too. Even in a group, I like to concentrate on what the leader says and make it mine to feel like I’m not just repeating the words I’m expected to say. You would say the church was very welcoming of all kinds of people, because they really are, and I miss them as people now I’m involved somewhere else but I still felt this dissonance. Maybe we are doomed to bond with the similar one way or another. If you manage not to only allow in the cool kids you may still alienating on another level…
    Alessia recently posted..Jam & Dram

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