Knowing Your Community: The Math of the Kingdom

If you aren’t planting a church any time soon, is there anything you can glean from the church-planting movement that will help you transform your established church into an establishing church?

For a series we call The Math of the Kingdom, we reached out to several church-planting networks and posed this question to some of their seasoned, in-the-trenches planters. Their responses revealed six strategic themes that any pastor can implement in any context: know your community; be known by your community; pursue diversity; develop leadership; make disciples; and adopt a planter’s heart.

No matter the age or size of the church you lead, it factors into the math of the kingdom. Explore these strategies, ideas and insights to see how they can contribute to multiplication in your church.

Principle No. 1: Knowing Your Community

WON KWAK, Maranatha Grace Church in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Dwell in the community. A church planter needs to be present in the community in order to have presence in the community. This is a nonnegotiable. Why? This is the way of God who sent his Son, Jesus, to become flesh in order to dwell among us.

Now, we don’t incarnate like Jesus did. His incarnation is descriptive and was for divinely redemptive purposes, so don’t think you’re anyone’s savior. Jesus is the only way, truth and life. But there is much in God’s Word that prescribes for us to engage in incarnational ministry. Pastors need to be in and involved in the life of the missional context and community they are called to serve.

Oh yeah … don’t forget to check out government census statistics, Wikipedia and other sources of information on the demographics, culture and history of your community.

MATT McGUE, One Church in Jackson, Mississippi: It is essential to know as much as possible about the community to be a credible catalyst for change. First, I recommend paying for a quality, comprehensive demographic study that will supply you with empirical data that gives you freedom to explore block-by-block details.

Data alone, however, is not enough to understand the people who live there day to day. Secondly, the most frontline, in-the-trench people that truly know the community are the local police. These public servants patrol and protect our streets 24/7/365. One of the first meetings I set up was with the chief of police in our city. I had a list of questions to investigate his department’s insights into the community. I do regular ride-alongs in a patrol car to stay engaged with the present state of the community. Honestly, I have learned more in a two-hour ride-along than I have studying demographics for weeks.

The third step to community assessment must be the public school system and those who daily work with the children. Teachers, coaches, guidance counselors and school staff know the real family dynamics and unique needs facing the community. I recommend volunteering consistently in the public schools to build those genuine relationships that will open your eyes and heart to the real issues.

I also suggest pastors carry on consistent conversations with local business leaders, politicians, nonprofits and the unchurched to keep a true pulse on the heartbeat of the city. Engaging the community helps me to be a better pastor and relevant preacher.

JOSE ABELLA, Providence Road Church in Miami: First, you should invite other leaders from your church to join you on the beautiful journey of discovery as you attempt to engage and assess your community. Additionally, you must be aware that any serious effort to gain a comprehensive understanding of your community can result in major cultural, methodological and even theological shifts within your church. Therefore, “buy in” from key leaders will prove valuable as you lead your church toward a more intentional outward focus.

Secondly, you should strive to become an active member of you community. You will need to spend time outside of the church walls in order to get to know both the joys and troubles of your community. As an active member of this community, your involvement should not be limited to simply having an awareness of your community’s condition, but rather have an intentional hands-on approach to know and be known by the people of your community.

Lastly, you must never forget that all efforts, methods and strategies serve the greater goal of gospel proclamation.

RYAN McCAMMACK, Gospel Hope Church in Atlanta: I think an easy first step in gaining an understanding of your community is to take advantage of one of the excellent demographic study tools available. This gives you a quick way to get a 30,000-foot view of some of the unique features of your particular neighborhood.

Second, and more importantly, begin to develop relationships within your target area. As you start having conversations with those in your community, you’ll get a better feel of the values and the rhythms of the people you are seeking to serve.

Third, gain insights from those who are already ministering in or around your area. Pastors who have been ministering in the area for years are a great resource to help you understand solid contextualization.

KEVIN STAMPER, Restoration Church in Trinity, Florida: In planting, the order of steps is every bit as important as the steps themselves. Usually, we try to find a location and secondly look at the needs of said community and try to meet them. But, we learned this order of operations is a disservice to both the community and the church. Instead of finding a place and retrofitting our vision to fit it, what if we designed our vision and then found a place in which it is needed?

We spent some financial capital investing in MissionInsite, which is a comprehensive demography company. We then poured over their findings of our specific area. We had some bright people who understand how to analyze data, summarize and highlight the important findings of each potential planting area.

Our goal was to make sure that our vision and values lined up with the needs of that community. We’ve seen evidence that our vision and values resonate within our community’s context, which came because we were true to our vision first, place second.

Principle No. 2: Being Know by Your Community »

James P. Long
James P. Long

James P. Long is the editor of Outreach magazine and is the author of a number of books, including Why Is God Silent When We Need Him the Most?