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03/07/2010 / John Hanna

Eleven ideas for researching your community

This is what Rick Warren recommends for ministry leaders who want to research the community around their church:

As ministry leaders, we need to take research seriously. The more you know about the people in your community, the better you will be able to meet their needs.

How do you find out about those who live in your area? Chris Forbes, co-author of the recently published book, Guerrilla Marketing for Nonprofits, offers these ideas –

    1. Media Representatives. Sales people who work for newspapers, radio and television stations, outdoor advertisers, know a lot about your community. Talk to them and also learn about the available communication channels in your marketplace.
    2. Book Stores. Read books and reports of religious surveys. Increasingly, books containing reports of religious research are published each year. Become familiar with the available research that is most similar to your target community.
    3. Site Visits. Take a ‘windshield survey’ by driving through the neighborhoods where you want to launch a new ministry. Site visits are a good time to PrayerWalk. Pray for the needs of the people as you learn about them.
    4. In-depth Interviews. Talk to community leaders, business, nonprofit groups, anyone who deals with the public locally. Make it a point to get to know the “gatekeepers” of your targeted community.
    5. Internet Search Engines. Don’t leave your house looking for research until you have spent time searching the internet for community information. So much is available online it would be a mistake to not take full advantage of what you can find on the web.
    6. Libraries. Get to know your local librarian, he/she knows where to find resources you might overlook like, the Sourcebook of Zip Code Demographics, a handy reference guide with the specifics about people in your community.
    7. Government Agencies.Your local school board, chamber of commerce, economic development authority often publish important statistics that are relevant to your ministry.
    8. Demographic Services. There are many companies that package demographic information at a relatively low cost, some specifically designed with the needs of a ministry in mind. If your church is affiliated with a denomination, check your denominational office for available demographic data.
    9. Original Research Projects. You can conduct your own original surveys, interviews, and focus groups. A simple door-to-door survey could offer tremendous new insights about your community’s receptivity to the gospel. When we started Saddleback, a door-to-door survey was one of the most important things we did.
    10. Persona Profiles. Use the information you gain in your research to create a profile of the people you want to reach. We developed a profile for Saddleback Sam, but you’ll want to develop a profile specific to the people as they are in your community.
    11. Other churches. You might interview other pastors in the area to get a consensus on the spiritual climate of your community. Pastors who’ve served a dozen years in a community should be very aware of local issues and spiritual trends in an area. Before I moved to California to start our church I contacted each of the evangelical pastors in the Saddleback Valley to hear their assessment of the valley’s spiritual needs.

                        The bottom line is this, no one should know more about your people than you do.


                        Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and best-known churches. In addition, Rick is author of the New York Times best seller The Purpose Driven Life andThe Purpose Driven Church, which was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for ministers.

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