By Mary Frances, Senior Missional Consultant
A while back I was talking with another consultant about some of the tools that I use when working with congregations, judicatories and denominations. She was quite impressed with the scope of our toolbox with tools ranging from free to thousands of dollars, out of the box to custom and narrative to objective. It turned out that this particular consultant only used self-assessment narrative types of information when working with congregations and had no source for objective data.
First, let me say that self-assessment is important. Congregations need to be able to identify who they think they are, what their strengths are and where they could use some help. They need to take a good look at themselves and understand gifts and liabilities. They need to know where they came from, to identify repeating patterns of health or dysfunction and they also need to know where they are going. This is where the Congregational Vitality Assessment comes in. And it’s important to remember that self-assessment is only part of the picture.
Second, let me say that objective data helps round out the picture. What do we mean when we talk about objective data? We are talking about demographic reports that help to show who is in the community, key generational groups, the presence or lack of diversity, economic factors, housing, education, poverty and more. When looking at data with members of a congregation, I always like to compare their congregation’s demographics with the community demographics. How are they similar? How are they different? I recently worked with the members of an aging congregation. They truly thought they lived in a community filled with retirees. Looking at their demographics it quickly became clear that 50% of the population around them was under the age of 50. Often congregational leaders say they want more families with young children, and it turned out they were right there under their noses. Demographics helped us to see that those families are actually in the neighborhood – now they will have to figure out how to engage them.
For me, my favorite demographic tool is the Neighborhood Insight Report available from FaithX. This 2-page report has over 40 data points and it comes, as noted above, in a pdf or dynamic html version, the latter of which offers the opportunity to click through the data for additional data. For instance, the total population of a particular area is one piece of data on the report. Click on it and you can see a breakdown of that total population number by age and by gender. The report also provides data for three different customizable drive or walking times such as 5, 10 or 15 minutes therefore tripling the amount of data you really have access to. It is a powerful tool for your ministry that you can’t afford to be without.
The first page of the report (see sample below) has some general population information such as total population, generational breakdown, race and ethnicity as well as household income and net worth. You can really start to dig deep into who is your neighbor when you look at the lifestyle segments. Each of the top three segments has 5 pages of information and helps you understand how to connect with folks in that population group.
The second page (see sample below) has more items that have potential to be risk factors such as unemployment, people with disabilities, people living below the poverty line or receiving food stamps. Here you can also see how the populations changings during the day versus the evening hours, understand the cost of housing in your area and what kind of work people do.
Are you interested in gathering data for your congregation? Click here to get your report today.