Updated: May 20, 2019
UNDERSTANDING OUR ROME by Glenn C. Daman
The agenda for the meeting was to discuss the future goals and direction of the church. The board talked about the need to train the children and have a youth program for the teens. John, the chairman of the board, talked about forming a new ministry for the men and women. Others mentioned the need for more emphasis on missions. The pastor mentioned that he would like to see new small groups. After an hour of discussion, Pete, the newest member of the board, asked about evangelism. Pete pointed out that the mission of the church is to evangelize their community. So, he asked, how could they be more effective in evangelism? In the next hour the focus of the conversation changed. Although everyone had close friends who where unchurched, no one really had any idea on how they were to reach them with the gospel. At the end of the meeting they realized that if they were going to determine the direction for the overall ministry of the church they needed to have a better understanding of the community.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING
The apostle Paul established his ministry upon the foundation of the gospel. Paul's desire was to proclaim the gospel without apology or compromise (1 Corinthians 9:16). Yet, he recognized that the communication of the gospel needed to be culturally sensitive. The proclamation of the gospel is not done in a cultural vacuum, but must be done in the context of a specific cultural setting. While not compromising the gospel in any form, Paul was willing to adapt his ministry to the cultural sensitivity of the people he was desiring to reach (1 Cor. 9:19-23). In the process of establishing direction for the church, it is necessary to have a cultural understanding of the community. Like the men of Issachar, who "understood the times and knew what Israel should do" (1 Chron. 12:32), the church needs to understand its times and cultural setting. This involves six steps.
STEP ONE: ASSESS THE SPIRITUAL CLIMATE
Each community has a different spiritual climate. Some communities are receptive and open to the presentation of the gospel, others are tolerate of the church, but disinterested in the gospel message. Some communities are antagonistic to the church and openly hostile to its ministry. To understand the spiritual climate of the community, Rick Warren suggests asking the unchurched five questions.
1. What is the greatest need in the area? This question serves to get people talking and sharing their thoughts about the community.
2. Do you attend any church? If they do, then thank them for their time and move on to the next house. The purpose of the questions is to understand the spiritual receptivity of the unchurched, not the churched.
3. Why do you think people today do not attend church? Asking people why they don't attend church will put them on the defensive. Asking people why others do not attend will usually result in them sharing why they don't attend.
4. What would you look for in a church if you were to attend? This question enables the church to gain an understanding of what kind of church programs would people be interested in.
5. What can we do for you and what advice can you give us so that we can better serve the people of our community? Since the church is to minister to people, it needs to know how it can better serve people. This survey should be brief and it should be made clear that you are merely seeking to get their opinion rather than trying to sell them something or get them to join anything. After the survey is conducted, the information gathered can be used by the church in assessing its evangelistic programs. By using the information in program development, the church is able to minister to the people in a relevant manner.
STEP TWO: ASSESS THE DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE COMMUNITY.
In rural communities, developing a demographic assessment of the community can be done by having people assess their own neighbors and compile the information. In larger communities, demographic assessment can be attained through government agencies or demographic research organizations. The demographic study should address the following information:
Age: What is the median age of the community and how many people are there in each age bracket?
Family status: What is the number of children in each family and their age? What is the marital status of people? What percentage are , divorced, remarried, widowed, or living together?
Employment and economic base: What are the primary industries and job opportunities within the community? Is there a predominant industry which undergirds the economy of the community?
Income level and social status: What is the average income level of the community and the average social status? Do the people have a high or low standard of living?
Education level: How much education does the average person have? How much education is required for the employment opportunities within the community?
Nationality and ethnic background: Is there any ethnic background within the community? Does the ethnic heritage of the community have any affect upon the religious base within the community?
Religious background: Has there been any religious background that has predominated in the community?
Geographic boundaries: What is the geographic extent of the ministry of the Church? Is the influence of the church limited to a portion of a city or town, the town itself, or the surrounding areas?
STEP THREE: ASSESS THE CULTURE OF THE COMMUNITY.
Effective ministry planning incorporates the understanding of its cultural environment. Culture is the ideas, norms and material formations that typify a specific group of people. The purpose of the assessment is to gain insight into these areas by looking at the visible expressions of the culture. By assessing the culture of the community, the church is able to have a better perception of the influences that not only affect people within the church, but also affect the programming of the church.
1. Assess the mind-set and lifestyle of the community.
Active versus sedentary. Are people's lifestyle filled with activity or do they spend their leisure time quietly?
Family versus career focused. Some people form life goals based upon their careers, while others base them upon their family relationships.
Individualism versus community. Is there a strong sense of community and are people measured by their contribution to the community, or is there a strong sense of individualism apart from any community involvement?
Politically conservative versus politically liberal. How the community votes provides insight into the values and beliefs of the community.
Environmentalist versus environmental usage. Do people in the community place the preservation of the environment as a higher value than individual livelihood?
Traditional versus progressive. Traditional communities evaluate issues by the past traditions of the community and resists any change, while others place little value in the traditions and have a more innovative outlook which welcomes change.
Religious versus secular. Does the community have a strong religious heritage or are people uninvolved in religious activities and secular in their mind-set?
Stable population versus mobile population. What is the turnover rate of the population within the community? What are the factors that contribute to the turnover rate?
Homogeneous versus multi-cultural. Is the community predominately influenced by one cultural expression or are there multiple subcultures and ethnic backgrounds within the community?
Relational versus accomplishment. Are people evaluated by their ability to relate with others or by what they can accomplish and achieve?
Blue collar versus white collar. Depending upon the economic base, some communities may consist predominately of professionals while others belong to the working class.
Federalism versus libertarianism. Does the community hold to a strong centralized government or to a decentralized government where the federal government is viewed with suspicion?
Cosmopolitan versus providential. Cosmopolitan communities have a strong interest in world events, whereas providential communities are concerned only with the events happening within the local community.
Academic/educational versus nonacademic view. Is education highly valued and emphasized, or is higher education seen as unnecessary for success? Are decisions based upon a scientific model or upon ones "gut reaction?"
Futurism versus here and now. Are people anticipating the future and future events or are the people predominantly concerned only with the present?
Hi-tech versus lo-tech. To what extent have people been influenced by the technological movement?
2. Social Centers. Understanding a community involves examining the community to see what are the social centers for that area. Where do people congregate? What social events does the community support? When people do want to get together with their neighbors and friends, where do they go?
3. Customs. Are there any customs which mark the community? Customs are the long established practices which become an integral part of the community infrastructure.
4. Community history. Every community has a different story. Whether the story is actually verbalized or not, it does serve to undergird the fabric of the community. New people in the community eventually learn and become part of the community story, or they remain "outsiders." For the church to understand the community it needs to have a clear understanding of the history of the community.
5. Cultural indicators. There are many other cultural indicators that can be surveyed to gain greater insight into the cultural background of the community. Music. What is the type of music that is the most popular within the community? What are the most popular radio stations? At community sponsored musical events, what type of music is most often played and what groups are brought in? Reading material. What magazines are the most popular within the community? A good place to find out is to talk with the local business which sell magazines to find out which are the most popular. What type of books are most often read or purchased? Checking with the local librarian can provide a good idea of the types of books that people read. Local Newspaper. The local newspaper is more than just a recording of local news; it is a record of local culture. The articles that are written describe the culture. By reading the local newspaper the church leader can gain insight into the interests of the people. Community organizations. Community organizations play a vital role in the social and cultural structure of a community. The organizations that are the most popular are not only those who do a service to the community, but who, in the process, express key values that mark the community.
STEP FOUR: ASSESSING THE NEEDS OF THE COMMUNITY.
The goal of assessing the community is to gain an understanding of the community needs so that the church might minister to those needs in order to bring people to a redemptive knowledge of Christ. While the church is to proclaim the gospel, it is also called upon to minister to the needs of people (Matthew 15:31-45). The critical question for the church to ask is, "What are the social, emotional, physical or financial needs of people that we have the means to minister to?" While the church cannot meet all the needs of people, it can and should seek to minister to their various needs.
STEP FIVE: PERSONALIZE YOUR TARGET.
After the assessment is done, then the church can personalize the target community by creating a composite profile of the typical person within the community. By doing so, the church is able to clearly articulate who they are to reach. This composite can serve as a guide for the church as it seeks to develop direction for the church ministries.
STEP SIX: INTEGRATING THE ASSESSMENT.
The final step is integration. The community assessment is of no value if it does not influence the ministries of the church. The questions that the church needs to ask are, "How are we going to reach this person with the gospel of Christ? What type of programs would minister to the needs of the community? As these individuals join our church, are there any key issues that need to be corrected?" To establish goals and direction for the church, the church needs to understand its community and recognize that its mission is to reach that community with the gospel of Christ.