I met Heidi Unruh twelve years ago and my outlook on community has never been the same. She was one of the first authors I ever had the privilege to meet in person. She co-wrote a great resource titled Churches that Make a Difference. It’s a worthy read if you are into community outreach. Today, I want share with you seven reasons why churches (and I’d argue businesses too) should study their community. Heidi is a trusted and seasoned resource here. We at Seed to Oaks have embedded and codified these principles in our Neighborhood 360º Assessment.
WHY STUDY YOUR COMMUNITY?
Community analysis enables you to choose a ministry that is really needed, take best advantage of existing community resources, and convince your congregation and other friends that your program is worth supporting. In order to do that, you need to create as thorough and as balanced a profile of your community as you can. . . . God is already at work in your community. Your task is to find out where you can enter the picture.
According to Ray Bakke, many Christians have “lacked a conscious theology of place.” To develop effective community ministry, churches must learn to do “exegesis of environments.” In other words, you must become a student of a neighborhood order to become its servant.
A community assessment has seven main goals:
- To build connections between the church and the community.
The process of networking and listening nourishes your church’s sense of belonging to and identification with the community, and prepares the way for ministry partnerships.
- To guide strategic planning and the development of new ministries.
Without an accurate assessment, ministry may reflect the church’s interests more than the community’s real needs, dreams and strengths.
- To draw on stories of motivation and vision in the community.
A community study process that engages the input of the community, identifying people’s passions and potential, can help generate momentum toward organized action and shared vision.
- To help understand the forces that affect the lives of people in the community.
A community study can reveal dynamics – sometimes hidden beneath the surface – that influence people’s opportunities, choices, and perceptions of self-worth.
- To help understand community factors that influence ministry effectiveness.
A church that is ignorant of external influences on its ministries can easily become discouraged, or fight the wrong battles.
- To help understand how the church itself is affected by the community.
It is important to understand how your church’s specific geographic and cultural setting has helped to shape its identity. To remain relevant and viable, churches must learn to be aware of and adapt to changing environmental factors.
- To discern how your church is perceived by the community.
Churches are sometimes woefully unaware of their local reputation. “Outsiders'” views of your church can represent a stepping stone—or a barrier—to building effective ministries.
Seed to Oaks has helped churches across 14 states study and understand their community. One of my favorite stories is a church located in Louisville, KY. They had a humongous grass field in their church backyard. It was a popular spot for soccer in their multi-ethnic neighborhood, but the church was concerned because the field play was destroying the grass. Typically this kind of concern doesn’t end well for the community. I’ve seen a number of churches fence off their playgrounds out of similar concerns. But, during the Neighborhood Assessment process they learned how valued of an asset their field was. It was one of the most desired spots in the community. What comes next is why I love the story so much. Based on the dreams of their community, the leaders at the church decided to reach out to the city’s professional soccer team. Together they shared the community’s dream of having a top notch field to play on. A collaboration was birthed and today it’s a beautiful community space where the church and community come together, play soccer, have tournaments, events, and more. It has become a go to place for authentic community. And when asked why a church would do such a thing? Because it was a tangible expression of love. The church made room for their community, just like Jesus does.
You can connect with one of our Neighborhood Strategists if you’d like to learn more about how we can help you study your community.