Targeted advertisements, whether it’s the world’s softest sweatshirt on Facebook or the perfect apartment pushed on Google, find their way to you on purpose. These ads use your data and connect you with relevant offers—the better the data and process, the better-suited you are for a product or service.
These ads deliver Christmas gifts, date night ideas, and new appliances. They can also radically change the future of church ministry.
If you knew that your congregation was full of young families with lower-than-average incomes, you’d be less likely to plan retreat weekends with high price tags.
If you understood that the majority of mothers in your church worked outside of the home, you’d think twice before offering your only women’s Bible study on Thursday mornings.
If you learned that your church attracted a large single-young-professional population, you might cancel your annual parenting sermon series.
Demographic data isn’t everything, and the danger of stereotyping and over-generalizing is valid. But, just as Solomon charges those who desire to be good stewards to “be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds,” (Prov 27:23), pastors are called to know the conditions of their congregations. Knowledge of individual congregants and the ability to identify common challenges and shared griefs, leads to efficient, effective ministry that changes lives. Knowing people helps us serve them better.
For the overtaxed and under-resourced church leader struggling to know the intimate needs of congregants and visitors during a pandemic era, understanding the collective and individual conditions of congregants may sound like an overwhelming task. But, there are several accessible tools that can help you better understand your congregation and your community. These resources won’t tell you everything you need to know about your people: only conversation and time spent in trusting, healthy relationships can do that. But they can serve as avenues for walking toward deeper interactions and intentionality, resulting in more vibrant relationships.
The United States Census Bureau provides data tables that define community characteristics in towns and cities. Many know this information provides insight into the sex, age, and race representation in your community, but the census data goes even deeper than that.
Tables like “Means of Transportation to Work” break down occupation, industry, and class of worker, in addition to income level and poverty status in the past 12 months. Even more nuanced, the table details time arriving at work from home, travel time to work, and the number of vehicles available. When it comes to practical planning weekly events and small groups, this data is invaluable. If you see that most families in your community have one car and a half-hour work commute, evening gatherings may need to start a bit later in order to serve these families rather than stress—or, worse, exclude—them.
Data tables like “Grandparents,” “Households and Families,” and “Occupancy Characteristics” can provide further insight into the norms and nuances of your community, revealing ministry opportunities. If you learn that a high percentage of local grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren during the day, you may find tremendous potential for a ministry that supports these caregivers. Or, if your community has a high percentage of one-person households but your church has traditionally focused on families, you may launch a new initiative for single people.
Especially if you live in an area that’s densely populated with families, you may find education statistics helpful. The National Center for Education Statistics and nonprofit entities like GreatSchools publish data on individual schools and whole districts. You can learn about the racial makeup of the rising generation as well as your local academic flourishing—or lack thereof.
But how can this education data inform your ministry? If you learn that the schools in your area have high parent engagement, you may want to consider how your children and youth ministries can better utilize church involvement among these families who place a high priority on academic success and pursuits. If test scores are low, perhaps your church could consider mobilizing some of its members to volunteer in classrooms or provide after-school tutoring.
Data is not the answer in and of itself—but it can (and should) fuel your pastoral imagination.
Insights+ by Gloo
Knowledge about what’s on the hearts and minds of your community equips you to create the most impactful message and ministry. Before Nehemiah set out to rebuild the wall, he gathered information about the community (Nehemiah 2:12–6). Nehemiah assessed the facts about the state of the community and the needs of its members to better understand how he could lead and serve them effectively.
Similarly, pastors and church leaders can better understand what’s happening in their community by doing research on things like faith history, church goals, pain points, triggers, and more. This process of identifying common traits among the people you serve is building a persona. Pastors can build several personas that represent the different groups living in their community so they can better know how to reach these people in a more personal, authentic way.
Gloo’s Insights+ tool makes it easy for pastors to create personas so you can know what to say, where to serve, and how to connect with people who have real needs. Pastors can use it to understand community strengths and opportunities to serve around family dynamics, marriage health, and financial status. Insights+ can also help you understand the spiritual styles and tendencies of your congregants so that you can develop discipleship pathways that work well for their motivations and life stage.
And when it comes to the people in your community who you’ve yet to meet? Creating personas will empower you to document what you intuitively know about your community as well as uncover important new insights that can propel you toward richer relationships with people whose hearts are hungry for the hope your church has to offer.
Through an understanding of your people—and the people you hope your church will reach—you can design ministries that both meet people where they are and bring them into deeper fellowship, God-honoring worship, and spiritual growth.