I’ve done church consulting for decades now. Over the years, I’ve worked with churches of various sizes, multiple denominations, differing polities, and diverse locations. I’ve learned a lot over the years.
Some patterns are generally the same among these churches, which doesn’t surprise me. Some examples are that most churches are not doing evangelism well, that most do not have a clear discipleship strategy, and that most tend to have a low percentage of members serving in the church. These issues are common enough that I assume we’ll need to address at least some of them in a consult.
What’s been most surprising to me, on the other hand, may be a surprise to you, too: the number of pastors and church leaders who really don’t know the community they’re called to reach.
In almost every consultation I’ve done, I’ve asked the leaders to give me their ministry area so we might complete a demographic study of that community. To my surprise, though, many church leaders are surprised by my very request. That’s because they assume all their issues are internal ones, and the consultant’s job is to help them fix those areas. They’re not even thinking about whether they’re set up to reach their community—which immediately indicates a problem in the church’s focus.
Then, when I do secure a demographic study for a church, I seldom give the report to the church leaders immediately. Instead, I study it first and then ask leaders questions like these before they ever see the report:
- What percentage of people in your community are under age 65? Age 40? Age 18?
- What’s the fastest growing ethnic group in your community?
- Is your community projected to be larger or smaller in the next five years? The next ten years?
- What percentage of your community is single?
- What’s the average household income in your community?
- What percentage of the people are not attending church?
I could add other questions, but you probably already know what I learn. Many church leaders, beginning with pastors, cannot answer these questions with any sense of accuracy. To this day, that still surprises me. Here are my concerns in those situations:
- A generic “burden” for a community that leaders don’t really know is not much of a burden. Unnamed, unidentified burdens may be no burdens at all, actually.
- A lack of accurate knowledge of a community hinders the church’s outreach efforts. We would expect an overseas missionary to spend significant time getting to know his people group if he wants to reach them; but, for some reason, we don’t see as much need if the people around us already seem like us. That means we’re aiming our outreach (if it exists at all) at assumed—and sometimes inaccurate—targets.
- Current knowledge of a community should lead to current prayers for that community. Imagine, for example, the pastor who calls his church to pray after learning that more than half of the ministry area are under age 25. Knowledge focuses a burden, and the burden strengthens the prayers.
How well do you know your community? If you’re not sure (or even if you are sure but haven’t reviewed it for some time), I encourage you to check out Church Answers’ Know Your Community resource. It’s worth the expense.
Posted on February 14, 2023
Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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thank you for the information. Like your blog suggests, we have not done a community survey. There is a lot of good data, but does the report take it to the next level and make suggestions and possible next steps to consider. Also, can you adjust to make the circle wider, 20 or 25 minutes, which isn’t unusual for us in the burbs of Atlanta. Again, thanks,