Understanding Your Community
While internal trends provide a snapshot of ministry to people inside the walls of the church, community research starts the process of understanding your community. It’s true that you already understand a great deal about your mission field. Your ministry has been contextualized over time, born out of living, serving and ministering to diverse people in your area. This new effort to gather information about your community will confirm things your already know and reveal new insights that might have gone unnoticed.
The purpose in learning more is not to remake your church in the image of your environment, but rather to develop ministry in ways that connect with real and felt needs of local residents.
Let’s agree that effective ministry always meets a need—material, relational, emotional, recreational, physical and spiritual. Community research is simply a tool to help you understand more clearly what those needs are.
To start with, you need to know more about the environment in which you minister and serve—what we call exploratory or preliminary research. Basic facts about population, income, education and family size are the the first things you need to know. Typical preliminary research might include:
- Total Population
- Median Age
- Age Categories
- Racial Classification
- Average Household Size
- Household Types
- Housing Types
- Educational Attainment
- Marital Status
- Median Household Income
- Median Home Value
If you minister in the United States, a good place to gather this information (also called secondary data) is from the U.S. Census Bureau. Try it out now by searching data.census.gov for general demographic information for your zip code.
Assessment & Analysis
Once you’ve compiled preliminary research, it’s time for analysis. Consider these questions:
- What does the data indicate?
- What is the median age of your community? Is there a match between the church and community median ages?
- What is the average family size? Does this indicate anything for church ministries?
- What does the educational attainment in your community mean for church ministries?
- What occupations are typical for your community? What ministries are most likely to connect with people who live and work in your community?
- What proportion of the population falls into specific age categories? How many preschoolers are there? How many children? How many students? How many senior adults?
- What is the average income? What does income say about the felt needs of people in your community? (Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs here)
- And many other possible questions…
Examine the external data closely and strive to learn something new about your community.