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Understanding Your Community
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One of the first steps in transformational evangelism is to understand your community. This six part seminar curriculum will provide your church with the tools they need to determine what the needs are in your community as well as assist you in reflecting what kind of services you may be equipped to offer.

Each lesson has a presenter’s manuscript which can be read word for word, but will be stronger if the presenter puts it in his/her own words and uses personal illustrations. There are also several group activities and discussion questions to choose from as well as printable student handouts.

Click any of the links below to open as a pdf document (or right-click and Save As to save to your computer).
  • Part 1: What Kind of Community Are We In? What kind of community is our church located in? This may be a surprising question for you. Seventh-day Adventists move a lot more often than the general population. An Adventist pastor averages only a few years in each assignment and research has shown that Adventist members tend to be highly mobile. (Dudley, et al.) As a result, most Adventists do not put down very deep roots in a community. This is consistent with a faith that affirms that “this world is not our home” and looks forward to “a city whose builder and maker is God.” Yet it also means that you may not pay much attention to where they live. You may not understand the local culture, and you may not realize the extent to which you are seen as an “outsider,” all of which is counterproductive to effectively pursuing the mission of the Church.
  • Part 2: Demographics. In the information age, the use of demographics has be- come an integral part of church ministry. The word liter- ally means, “documenting people.” Demos is an ancient Greek word for people or a segment of the population, and graphos is the Greek word for writing or documentation. Just as the invention of photography and publications like National Geographic helped a generation of North Americans to open its eyes to natural wonders and cultures around the world, so the invention of the computer and demographics have made it possible to see and understand trends and dynamics on a vast scale; the births, lives and deaths of entire populations. Demographics are readily accessible to leaders of congregations through the census web sites of both the United States and Canada. There are also many other sources of demographic data being marketed to business executives, as well as some tailored for nonprofit organizations and Christian ministries. (See “Resources.”)
  • Part 3: Religious Profile. When we conduct public evangelism we use a certain translation of the Bible; we use certain types of music and other approaches that reveal a number of unstated assumptions about the people in the community. These are assumptions about what people already know about religion before they step into the first meeting. For example, it is assumed that people know that there are “books” in the Bible and that they know the names of at least some of the books and approximately what order they are in. It is assumed that people have heard and understand certain kinds of religious music. It is assumed that people know not to answer when the preacher asks a rhetorical question or stand up and interrupt the sermon when they have a question. I could list many more of these assumptions. All together they make a package or cultural framework which is related to a certain religious background.
  • Part 4: Interviewing Community Leaders. In every group there are certain individuals who influence the thinking of many others. In our congregation it may be people who have been members for a long time and know the history of the church. Or, it may be individuals who are respected because of their occupation or education, or their contact with a significant number of other members. The same thing is true in our community. There are “influentials” or “thought leaders” who have a great deal of impact on the attitudes and opinions of local residents. These include elected officials and those who work in the news media. Beyond those few are the relatively larger numbers of individuals who each influence a much smaller circle: The barber or hairdresser who chats with a number of customers each day; the foreman or office manager who supervises a number of employees; the bank vice president who has lunch with two or three local business owners one day and attends a civic club the next; the public school principal who has coffee with her teachers every morning and talks to parents several times a day, as well as meeting with a weekly PTA group. These individuals, particularly those who are long-time community residents, are all “influentials” and in a broader sense community leaders.
  • Part 5: Conducting a Needs Assessment. Demographics, interviews with community leaders, published reports all give suggestive information from which to infer the needs of the people in your community, but they do not provide hard, primary data about how people actually see their needs. What do the people in our community feel they need? What needs are the focus of their lives? What values drive their lives? It is this kind of hard information that is ultimately necessary to shape a ministry so that it has significant impact in the community, and to get the funding, mobilize the volunteers and other resources necessary to sustain it. A needs assessment is an intentional effort to get that information. A needs assessment—as the term is usually meant by professionals today—involves more than simply gathering some information. It is more than a specific survey about a specific topic. It is more than bringing together two or three kinds of information. A “needs assessment” is a balanced, comprehensive look at human conditions in a specified population, and includes both the gathering of data and a careful analysis of what the information means.
  • Part 6: Community Systems. Our community can be understood from a systems approach. It consists of a number of complex, interrelated systems that sustain the necessary elements which make it possible for people to live in this place; jobs, housing, utilities, transportation, communications, security and order, education, health care, recreation, family and social services, justice and religious institutions. “The sheltered religious world in which most pastors live and work,” says Dr. Stanley J. Hallet, an evangelical theologian in Chicago, “is often vastly different from the rough and troubled secular world of their parishioners. This difference of pulpit and pew worlds can result in irrelevant preaching, insensitive pastoral care, and unrealistic expectations of parishioners.”