When was the last time your church took a long, deep look at the current reality of your church? When was the last time your congregation really peered into the greatest needs, gaps, opportunities, and desires of your community? Often congregations think they understand their church’s current reality and know their community. In working with congregations and leaders across the country, I find these understandings and ideas are often outdated and inaccurate. Church leaders often make incorrect assumptions about their neighbors. In addition, church leaders too often assume they know the realities of the congregation. Sometimes the “niceness culture” of the church keeps congregants from feeling comfortable enough to ask the important questions to allow the current realities of the church to be known.
What’s the danger of not knowing the current reality of your church and your community? In short, without knowing and applying these realities to the ministry strategies, a church will become disconnected, irrelevant, and unable to live out its mission of making disciples. Now let’s dive a bit into how to assess the current reality of your church and your community.
To assess the current reality of your church, it will take some strength and courage of the leaders. Sometimes looking in the mirror is painful – necessary, but painful. Without knowing a congregation’s gifts, leaders’ passions, full inventory of church resources, and the unwavering commitment to align and leverage all the church’s resources to the church’s vision/congregational call, a church will struggle to know their current reality and live out their mission effectively. As Peter Serge said, “An accurate, insightful view of current reality is as important as a clear vision.”
To assess the current reality of your community, there are several steps to gain this perspective and understanding. Start with a demographic report (often MissionInsite) to take a deep look at the current and future trends. Pay special attention to the neighborhood right around your church’s location. This is the neighborhood your church was planted in and called to serve.
As long as your church is located in that neighborhood, your primary mission field is to reach your neighbors. After your leaders have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the multiple layers of information in the demographic report, it’s now time to hit the streets. With a sense of curiosity and love, engage in multiple conversations. These conversations are with neighbors, community leaders, and community groups to gain an understanding of the needs, desires, hope, dreams, problems to be solved, opportunities available, and gaps to be filled in your neighborhood. These conversations are confirming and contextualizing the demographic information from the report. Having these conversations should be an ongoing practice of congregations to stay relevant and connected to their community.
As with all areas of ministry, start with prayer and discernment. Who is God calling you to reach? How is God calling you to respond and impact your community? To discern your area of impact, make sure the need, problem, opportunity, or gap you feel God is calling you to address is not being addressed already by others. In addition, does your congregation have the giftedness for this call/vision? Make sure the call is relational and not just transactional. Does the church leadership have the passion for this call/vision that will sustain the call?
If your congregation is ready to take a bold look at the current reality of your church and your community, check out this resource. Journey Preparation, Surveying Your Church’s Landscape, will guide congregations through a congregational assessment to ascertain the current lay of the land of the church.