Rifle or Shotgun?

Which approach should be used: rifle or shotgun? From an idealistic perspective, a rifle is a single focused shot while a shotgun spreads out the focus of the blast. From a skeptical point of view, a rifle shot is often pictured as being ‘narrow minded’ while a shotgun is seen as ‘unfocused.’ What does any of this have to do with the church? When it comes to the church’s work of evangelism and cultural transformation, there are those who argue for and against each perspective. Some argue for a blast that allows for a greater spread of impact. Others say that this lacks focus and instead a more rifle-like approach should be taken. The broad perspective responds with accusations that this is too narrow. Which is correct? The answer is what any hunter will tell you: Pick the one that fits the target.

The key factor behind the choice of shotgun or rifle is distance. A shot that is too focused will miss at short distances. A hunter once missed a shot at deer only thirty feet in front of him because the scope on his rifle was set for 100 yards. On the other hand, a shotgun is perfect for short distances. But, if the target is 100 yards a way, a shotgun blast’s power will have spread out to such a degree that any target at that distance will be more harassed than seriously harmed.

So, what’s the target for the church? This very question came to my mind as I sat at the Mission to the World Global Mission Conference this weekend in Greenville. If the goal is to reach my next door neighbor with the gospel, it’s silly to have a rifled approach. What would be far more effective would be a shotgun blast, where multiple believers spread out into their spheres of influence to each reach their neighbor. As one seminar speaker from Berlin suggested, imagine the effectiveness of a group of believers each focusing on three close friends. In Berlin, the results of this approach have been astounding.

On the other hand, if a group of believers in Berlin want to make an impact in Brussels, a shotgun approach will simply fail to have an impact. Multiple approaches may actually weaken any efforts at that distance. Instead, it will take a rifle, a focusing of resources along with strategic planning to create an effective means of reaching those at a distance in Brussels. To push the analogy further, perhaps the target is not Brussels but a cultural institution of a particular country. In order to use a close-up shotgun blast, one would need people in that part of culture. If this is not the case, a single strategy backed by great resources may work much better, such as a media campaign or thought-provoking advertising.

The key factor for the church then is to determine the target and choose the appropriate approach. In my church, the challenge is to tell members to start thinking of shotgun approaches, of everyone reaching those nearby with the gospel and not just a rifled focused strategic approach. At the same time, the church as a whole can not rely only upon the shotgun approach but must also focus upon rifle-like strategy for larger scale impact at a distance, for instance, how to address poverty on a large community scale. In this way, used properly, both the broad approach of many engaging neighbors and the narrow approach of one larger focus become effective. Let us pray that the church has the wisdom to choose and encourage the correct approach for each scenario.

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