Missional Planning for Congregations: Who Are Our Neighbors?

by Ken Howard

The third post in a multi-part series on Missional Planning.
Click here to read the previous post.

Step 2: Who Are Our Neighbors?

The next step is find out as much as we can about the characteristics of the people who live in your neighborhoods. We say neighborhoods (plural) because the community in which God has planted your congregation is actually a collection of communities: a neighborhood of neighborhoods, each of which have their own character and characters. And marketing research shows that there are definable subgroups within the general population that share similar demographic characteristics, values, and behaviors.

There are several kinds of data you can study to develop a clear picture of the people in your neighborhoods.

Lifestyle (Marketing) Data. There are several sources of demographic lifestyle data (Datastory for Faith Communities use data from ESRI). As you study the demographic and lifestyle characteristics of the groups that make up your neighborhoods, you will want to be interpreting implications for your congregation’s ministry and outreach by asking yourself questions like:

  • What media channels do they watch, listen to, or read? (How can we reach them?)
  • If they visit you, what kinds of hospitality will make them feel welcome?
  • What kinds of education resources, facilities, and teacher qualities will you need to accommodate age distribution, family composition, language, and culture?
  • What kinds of skills are they likely to bring with them?
  • What kinds of needs are they likely to have?

Datastory for Faith Communities does some of this interpretation in documents we call Missional Context Reports, which derive answers to the above questions and more, based known correlations between demographic variables and faith-related behaviors.

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


Step 3: What Issues Do Our Neighbors Face?

Once you have built a clear picture of the characteristics of the people who make up your neighborhoods, you will want to dig deeper into available demographic data to determine the kinds of issues they face. You will want to look at things like: crime rate, poverty rate, diversity-related issues, health-related issues, and more.


Step 4: What Resources Do Your Neighbors Have to Meet Their Issues?

And finally, continuing to paint the picture of your neighborhoods, 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.


Step 5: What Does It All Mean?

It’s tempting after doing all the above homework to think that you now really have a sufficient working knowledge of your communities to begin developing programs and ministries for them. But you don’t, at least not fully. First, you have to spell out your hypotheses about the people, the issues, and the resources of your neighborhoods. Then you literally have to get outside the building and into the community. Enter into discussions with the people who live and work there and find out if the hypotheses you have made were accurate.

Ask yourself:

  • What do we think we know about this population?
  • Who do we have to talk to in the community – and what kinds of questions to we need to ask them – to confirm or correct what we think we know?
  • Where will we have to go to find them?
  • Who will go? When?

Stay Tuned! Next week we will cover steps 6 and 7: Where do we go from here?