This is my first post in a new blog using MissionInsite for community research and church development, available exclusively to ACST and MissionInsite subscribers. I hope you will regularly join as we explore how churches can become really relevant to the people within their reach.
A Microscope on the Community
The MissionInsite website is much like the student microscope we used in High School and University Science Labs. Each microscope had two key adjustable features: magnification and filters.
Once you draw a search area (i.e. place a specific slice of reality on a slide and place it under the lens), you can study it in varying degrees of detail. For example, when you upload your household membership and adherent list into the system to create a “People Plot,” you can see the distribution of member households across the region. Think of this as adding a colored dye to the slide under your microscope since all the member households appear as little colored dots in the search area.
- Draw your search area to include at least 85% of member households. This reveals the current geographic “reach” of your church. One way to grow a church is to reach further and expand the region influenced by your church. You can zoom out to get the big picture of all the publics in a community within, say, a 30-mile drive of the church building. This is particularly helpful, for example, to track trends in population and transportation to see who is moving in, who is moving out, and where they will live.
- Another way to grow your church is to go deeper to explore the neighborhoods where you have the greatest population density of current members. You can zoom in to get a micro-picture of particular publics within, say, a 10-minute walk to the church building. This reveals where you already have volunteer resources to be trained and mobilized to invite neighbors to worship or lead local programs that are most relevant to publics under-represented in the church.
Rural churches, regional churches, and multi-site churches often zoom out to do their strategic planning. Urban churches, new church developments, and “Fresh Expressions” teams often zoom in to do their strategic planning. Whichever way you do it, MissionInsite automatically “shades” those areas of highest member household density so that you can see where your church is “hot”…and where it is not!
The second feature of a microscope is that it allows you to place particular filters in front of the lens to highlight particular features of the object under examination. There are three basic “filters” you can access in MissionInsite.
- Pure Demographics: You can view facts and trends for age, race, language, income, occupation, marriage and family status, homeownership, etc. This data often comes from the US Census, and in the 1960s and early ’70s, this was the only research available to churches.
- Lifestyle Segmentation: A “lifestyle segment” is a grouping of people based on similar attitudes, behavior patterns, spending habits, recreational priorities, media preferences, and habits of daily living. They tend to gather geographically, participate in similar activities, and follow predictable routines. This data comes from companies like Experian who track the digital “footprint” of individuals and households associated with a physical address.
- Religion and Spirituality: You can explore participation in religious organizations, social and moral perspectives, religious beliefs, and spiritual needs often associated with specific lifestyle segments. This data comes from research by MissionInsite (“Quadrennium”) and the observation and practical experience of church consultants and theologians.
Each filter provides a unique view of the search area isolated on the “slide” of the “microscope.” These can be color-coded in a thematic map to reveal population densities for groups that share similar demographics, behaviors, or perspectives. This allows a church to target specific neighborhoods or regions, focus its mission and message, and customize relevant programs.
I welcome any and all questions about using MissionInsite for ministry planning and leadership development. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To see other related blogs by Tom Bandy, please visit Church Growth.