Five Audience: Identifying Groups in Your Local Church

By Warren J. Hartman
Nashville : Abingdon (1987). 112 Pages.

Reviewed by
2.1 (Spring 1991) : 109-111

Five Audiences is a book about audience expectations. Out of 1400 people surveyed across the United States, five major audience types emerged. The primary purpose of the book is "to introduce the five audience groups, to describe them, and to suggest some of the implications for local church planning and programming" (p. 14).

The first chapter introduces and draws brief sketches of the five audience groups. Each of the next five chapters focuses on one of the five groups. The next two chapters develop implications of audience groups for teachers (Chap. 7) and churches (Chap. 8).

Though they may not realize it, "each audience group has characteristics and expectations that are unique to that group" (p. 21). "While members of each group are . . . apt to be found in every congregation" (p. 23), smaller churches and small groups within churches tend to polarize around a particular group-type. The longer the group is taught or led by one individual or cluster of individuals with the same leadership style and objectives, the greater is the tendency for those who dislike the style to leave and new people who approve of the style to be attracted. "When this self-selective process becomes operative in a majority of classes and groups, the whole congregation may take on characteristics of the dominant audience group or groups" (p. 24).

Ranked from largest to smallest in America, the generalized audience groups are fellowship, traditionalists (and Neotraditionalists), study, social action, and multiple (or non-specialized) interest groups. Adding a measure of balance to the discussion, Hartman says, "It is highly unlikely that the composite profile of any given class or group will be 100 percent fellowship, tradition, study or social action. . . . Furthermore, we believe that each member of a class or group is a uniquely complex being who cannot be pigeonholed into one of the four [specialized] audience groups" (p. 117).

Throughout the book, the author has helpful suggestions for putting the audience issue into perspective. For example,

Teachers and leaders would do well to remember that many times when members of a class or group express disappointment or dissatisfaction with a teacher, the criticism may not be due as much to the quality of teaching or leadership as it is to the style and manner of teaching and leading that is employed (p. 102).

Hartman recognizes that studies of this type tend toward overgeneralization. Descriptions of five audiences are "by no means totally accurate, nor can human behavior be predicated with certainty" (p. 15). Geographical location, national shifts, and denominational issues all bear on the size and distribution of audience groups (p. 15). Also, he notices that individuals "will pass through several audience groups at different times in their lives and at different stages of their faith journey" (p. 24). Shifts may be caused by "changes in family or vocational status, certain personal or religious experiences, growing older, different responsibilities in the local congregation, or, perhaps, the strong influence of someone`a friend, a relative, a church school teacher, or a pastor" (p. 24).

Five Audiences is a helpful reminder that churches are made up of individuals with individual needs and expectations. How and how much church leaders should respond to each set of needs and expectations are questions that must be addressed.