Every area has needs—places of brokenness that God has called us, as the Church, to help restore. Use this step-by-step guide to discover the needs all around your neighborhood.
In 2013, Ashley Austin and his family relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, to begin the process of planting a church there. In order to plant a church that met the community’s needs, they spent time learning the community’s context. By discovering the context first and then building relationships in the community to discover specific needs, the church has grown from the original group of nine adults and six children to 350 attendees at the original site and has planted a second church in another part of the city.
“There’s now a sense of belonging, a sense of family and a sense of community for a city longing for relationships,” says Ashley. “That has led to countless opportunities to communicate the gospel. If restoration is taking something that’s disconnected and making it whole, when we join God in what He’s doing, He transforms even the most unlikely of situations.”
IDENTIFYING THE CONTEXT OF YOUR COMMUNITY
As you begin to learn about your community, it’s best to understand the community’s context. Context includes important historical events, current cultural traditions and future desires and goals. Create task forces or teams to dig into each of these areas, and then compile the teams’ findings into one report that accurately portrays the community’s context.
1. Research the past
Use the local library, archives and older members of the community to help you learn the things in the past that have made your community what it is today.
- What major crises or conflicts has the community faced (e.g., fires, damage from natural disasters, racial tensions, etc.)?
- Did these events unite or divide the community? How has the community moved past these things?
2. Understand the present
Look at current city council agendas, news items, statistics and even social media trends in your area.
- Identify areas experiencing growth and areas experiencing decline. What economic and social issues have impacted both areas?
- Identify the demographics of the community. Which demographic groups are growing faster than others? What reason is behind this surge in growth?
- What city/county services are meeting the needs of the community? What infrastructure needs are not being met?
- What programs are being offered for senior adults, teenagers and children through the city?
- What issues does the city council see as most pressing in the community?
3. Picture the future
This information can be found through the library and the city council.
- What developments (retail shops, parks, multi-family housing, subdivisions) have been planned for the future?
- What future programs or expansions are planned through the city?
IDENTIFYING THE NEEDS OF YOUR COMMUNITY
The next step is to learn the ministry needs within the community. Explore the physical community, listen to and learn from people living and working in the area and seek God’s guidance by prayer-driving and prayer-walking the neighborhood.
1. Pray over your community
- Pray for every inch of your neighborhood. Take note of the condition of homes, schools and playgrounds. Pray for the children and families who live, work and play there.
- Pray for the local churches. Take note of each church’s location and programs. Pray God will bless each church’s work in the community. Ask God to lead you to those churches with which you could partner.
- Pray for the children and families in the neighborhood. Pray God will help you learn their stories and identify their needs.
- Pray for the homeless, abused, addicted, lonely, neglected and afraid in your community. Ask God to give you the sensitivity to identify who they are and what they feel and need.
- Conclude every time of prayer by asking that God would show you the needs and bring you clear next steps.
2. Spend time in your community
- Visit local stores and businesses. Note to whom they market their products and who shops there.
- Note who is out and about in the community and where they are found.
- Note any discernable demographic/ethnic/racial/age trends.
- Note where people gather in groups (coffee shops, restaurants, ballfields).
- Note how people move about the community (car, bus, taxi, ride-share services, walking).
3. Listen to and learn from people in your community
- As you explore the community, talk with several people about what they perceive to be the community’s best assets and greatest needs. Speak with individuals, business leaders, community leaders and church members.
- Hear from local government officials about the needs they want to address in the community.
- Ride with local police officers to explore their observations and understandings about the community.
- Connect with other area church leaders about how they understand the needs of the community.
- Talk with school officials and teachers about the community’s needs as seen through their students.
STRATEGICALLY CONSIDERING MINISTRY OPPORTUNITIES
1. How do you see God leading in this process?
What needs do you feel God has shown you?
2. What community partners could help meet the needs you have identified?
These could include government officials, school officials and teachers, other community churches and leaders, local shelters or other preestablished programs addressing the needs you’ve discovered.
3. Which church members are passionate and equipped to meet these identified needs?
Consider children’s workers, parents and/or families, teenagers or youth groups, Sunday school classes, senior adults—anyone with a desire to help provide resources to help meet these needs.
4. What resources and relationships has God given your church to support this ministry?
Consider missions offerings, other financial resources, church members who are connected to local schools, those with skills in couponing and Sunday school classes as places to start.
5. What space in the church or in the community could be used to meet these needs?
These five questions can help you determine whether or not:
There is a desire within the congregation to meet this need;
- There are resources of people, space and money to meet this need;
- This ministry is sustainable over time; and
- God is leading you as a congregation in this direction.
Remember, it is at the intersection of God’s calling, the identified needs of the community and the passions and gifts of your church that you can meet these identified needs — and change lives in the process.
This article was adapted from the Discovering Needs in Your Community ministry guide To download the full guide, including sample questionnaires and other helpful information, go to SendRelief.org/MinistryGuides.
Published November 19, 2020