One of the best ways to reach your community is to take the time to understand your community and what makes it unique.
In Acts 1:8, Luke writes that we will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, and therefore we are to be witnesses to our communities (Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria). Luke knows the importance of reaching the communities around us and making an impact where we are at.
In our work doing church vision consulting, we’ve found that taking the time to read and understand your community provides the best way to effectively engage those in your immediate environment. Healthy churches and healthy leaders take time to discover what qualities make their communities special. So how do you start to understand your community? Where do you begin? Here are 14 ways for you to start to reach and understand your community.
14 Ways to Better Understand Your Community
1. Do demographic research.
Demographic researching involves gathering information regarding: population, average age, education, marital status, number of persons per household, gender, ethnicity, etc. Be aware of any pieces of information that make your community unique, then examine how you can effectively reach those populations.
2. Identify the churches and religious groups in your community.
Take a survey of what religious groups are active in your community. How are they doing? Which are the same denomination as yours? Which are evangelical, mainline, etc.? Do you find many cults or religious groups? What groups are effectively reaching your community? Who is in decline or dying? Are there any potential candidates for church adoptions? (Thearda.com can also help you gather this information about religious groups in your community.)
If you find other organizations thriving in your community, take a moment and study what they are doing. Jot down some notes of some potential strategies that you could likewise implement to make a difference in your community and stand out.
3. Look at how churched/unchurched your community is.
As you discover how many individuals are involved in church, you can cater your outreach strategies within the community. What percent is unchurched? Ensure you are making your church an inviting place for those who are unfamiliar with church, while maintaining a strong foundation in truth and the Word.
4. Discover how many schools are in your community.
As you look at schools in your community, how many are public? How many are private schools? Are there many religious schools? Contact the local schools and universities and see how many would be interested in volunteer services. This can be a great opportunity to tangibly reach your community. Get to know the teachers and principals. See what they consider to be the biggest needs within their student population.
5. Look at the shopping centers.
Shopping centers can tell you a lot about the community you are living in.Where are the shopping centers located? What sort of stores are there? If you’re a church planter, what areas could be good for a potential building to rent? How many churches are currently meeting in shopping centers and theaters?
6. Take note of how many church plants are in your community.
Evaluate what other churches and church plants are in your community right now. Who is doing well (growing)? Who is struggling? Get to know and pray for these pastors and their churches. Look for opportunities to partner in ministry with them. Connect with other pastors and become a support system, as you seek to reach your community together. For those who are doing well, consider what similar changes you can make to be more effective as you serve those around you.
7. Be a networker.
Resist the temptation to spend all your time in your study or church office. Get out into your community. Hold your non-confidential business meetings in local coffee shops, parks, or restaurants. Meet and get to know the pastors, local politicians, the mayor, city council members, etc. Go to community events and listen to the voices of those in your community. Make sure you understand the issues your city/town is facing. Being out in the community will help you understand your community better.
8. Ride with a police officer of firefighter.
Ask a police officer or firefighter if you can spend a shift with them riding around the community. Build relationships with them and learn from them. What can they teach you about the community?
9. Interview people.
As you spend time in the community, talk to people. Interview them–formally and informally–to discover the needs of the community. Take time to interview the key influencers in the community as well, such as the mayor, city council members, etc. They have firsthand knowledge of what is going on in your community.
10. Spend time in some of the local establishments.
As mentioned before, don’t be afraid to spend some “office time” in a local establishment, such as a coffee shop, restaurant, park, or mall. You may get interrupted by running into someone you know; however, this allows you the opportunity to engage with those in your community. Take time to people watch and see what individuals are interested in.
11. Find what organizations in the community provide social services.
Learn about those organizations and see how you can help. Also see what organizations provide services to your church members in need. Is there a Goodwill, Salvation Army, food bank, etc.? Having a list of organizations that help the community gives you opportunity to connect your church members to the community — whether they are in need themselves or looking for an opportunity to make a hands-on impact in the community.
12. Do a neighborhood survey.
Develop a survey that you can administer to those in the neighborhoods surrounding your church. Ask questions about the community, felt needs, spiritual questions, views of the church, etc. Using a survey can assist you in learning more about those in your immediate area that you are seeking to reach.
13. Form a portion of the community.
Make sure the community is aware of who you are as a church and as a church leader. Don’t be a stranger. Meet people and let them know that you’re in the community and there to help them. Don’t be pushy, but make your presence known. Be open for prayer requests, learn about felt needs, and be a willing servant to help with whatever comes up.
14. Prayer-walk, prayer-run, and prayer-drive your community.
This is a simple activity that you can participate in on a daily basis. Anytime you are within your community, pray over it. Ask for wisdom from the Lord about specific ways you can serve those around you. Have open eyes and an open heart to see your community with clarity, humility, and a strong desire to impact it with the Lord’s love.
As you consider ways you can better understand your community, which ones could you implement before the end of this month? Make a concerted effort to learn more about what makes your community tick, so that you can impact more lives and make a greater impact for Kingdom.
Dr. Aubrey Malphurs is the Founder and Visionary Leader of the Malphurs Group (a church consulting firm) and the Senior Professor of Leadership and Pastoral Ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary. He frequently writes on Pastoral Ministry, Church Leadership Development, Strategy, and Vision and also serves churches and denominations as a Consultant and Speaker (The Malphurs Group church consulting team also provides Leadership Coaching and Sunday Secret Shopper Consultations). He is also a husband, father, grandfather, fisherman, and a diehard Florida Gator fan. | @amalphurs | website