Missional Context Analysis (Part 2): How to Get to Know Your Neighbor(s)

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts on Vision-Guided Experimentation.

By Ken Howard

In our last post, we spoke about the need to “get outside the building” by engaging in a Missional Context Analysis. After all, we cannot fulfill the command to “Love your neighbor,” unless we first get to know our neighbor. We called the process of getting to know our  neighbors (and our neighborhoods) “Missional Context Analysis.”

In this post we will be discussing the steps in the process of Missional Context Analysis. In it we will be using terms that have emerged in the development of our Missional Context Analysis tool, Datastory for Faith Communities. You don’t have to use our tool, of course. Nevertheless, the steps are the same.

Three Areas of Focus

When getting to know your neighborhoods you need to focus on three areas:

  1. Population Characteristics. Who are they? What do they value? How do they behave?
  2. Community Issues. What are the issues facing the people of the community?
  3. Community Resources. What resources exist in the community to help them face those issues?


Step: 1: Defining Your Neighborhood Geographically.

There are two ways to define the realistic boundaries of your neighborhood: the first is to determine the area from which people are most likely to visit your congregation, which we call your MissionWeb, and the second is to determine the practical extent of the area from which your membership is likely to come.

Defining Your Congregation’s MissionWeb. Your MissionWeb is the area bounded by equidistant drive times between your faith community and the nearest faith communities of your denomination (or similar liturgical style). The people within this area are more likely to visit your congregation before they visit the others (research has shown that the vast majority of people will explore the congregation closest to them before they visit others). You might think of this area as containing your lowest hanging fruit in terms of marketing.

Defining Your Congregation’s 15-Minute Drivetime. Research has demonstrated that about 70% of your regular attendees (the functional equivalent of members) will come from within a 15-minute drivetime of your site.

The neighborhoods that fall within the two above areas are the ones you will want to study first.


Step 2: Identify the Population Segments that Make Up Your Neighborhoods.

Marketing research has shown that within the general population, there are definable subgroups: population segments which share similar demographic characteristics, values, and behaviors. Different data providers (e.g., Esri, Mosaic, Percept) carve these segments up in slightly different groupings and give those segments different names that are clues to those common characteristics. From this marketing data, it is possible to make inferences about faith-related behaviors of the different population segments that surround your congregation, such as: the kinds of media channels that will reach them, the kinds of hospitality will make them feel welcome, what kinds of education resources and facilities you must have to accommodate them, what kinds of skills they are likely to bring with them, and what personal and community issues they face and what resources they have to meet them.


Step 3: Dig Deeper Into Population Characteristics

Once you have the snapshot of your neighborhoods from step two, you can begin to dig deeper into various population characteristics, including: generational predominance (e.g., Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, etc.), average educational level, population growth trends, income, and more.


Step 4: Dig Deeper Into Community Issues

Again, building on the snapshot from step two, you can begin to more deeply explore various relevant population characteristics, including: crime, poverty, racial issues, health, and more.


Step 5: Dig Deeper Into Community Resources

And finally, again building on the snapshot from step two, you can begin to more deeply examine institutional and organizational resources the community can bring to bear on the issues people are facing, including such resources as: hospitals, public and private schools, colleges and universities, recreation centers, various senior resources, and more.


What Next? Part 2: Get Out and Test Your Hypotheses

It’s tempting after doing all the above homework to think that you now really know your community. But you don’t (at least not fully). What you actually have done is developed a series of hypothesis about the people, the issues, and the resources of your neighborhoods. And now you have to really get outside the building and into the community to find out if the hypotheses you have made are accurate.

But that’s a topic for another blog post.