Engaging with the local context was one of the common factors for church growth found in The Church of England’s research report, ‘From Anecdote to Evidence’, which is discussed here.

“The research showed that churches that have a good understanding of the area that they are serving, and who tailor their outreach to the needs and opportunities of their local area are more likely to be growing. It is important to be outward looking as a church and to actively engage with your local context.”

Another important insight was that what works in one place may not work in another. This is why it is so important to understand your local community.

What are you doing to understand the local context and your church’s place in it?

One great idea is to get everyone in your church to take three photos in your local area that say something about the context your church finds itself in. Come together, share the photos and their meaning and talk about what you have learnt.

Another is to have church members ask people in the community – what could our church do to help or serve this community?

A particularly helpful tool is the Community Social Profile, developed by NCLS Research to help churches better understand their local community.

The free online census tool allows you to click on any area of Australia and get instant census results for that area. Churches can also purchase (for a modest cost of $220) a more detailed community profile containing:

  • the demographics of the local community
  • what is changing and local social trends
  • how the community compares with Australia
  • ways to strengthen connections with local residents.

The Community Social Profile is based on a physical address (centre point – usually the church) and any radius you specify from the centre point address (suggested radius is 2 km for urban areas and 5 km for rural areas). This means that you can decide what area in your local community you want your church to focus on. This could be used either as a tool for mission planning for your whole church or as part of a specific project that seeks to more clearly understand a particular part of the community.

You can view a sample of the Community Social Profile here.

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