At a time when the church is looking for the next quick easy to implement idea, the call to connect and engage with its actual local community can be a tough one. Its is far easier to ‘host’ events, or to ‘communicate via noticeboard’ rather than create and connect in a local situation. Beyond the noticeboard there are ‘one stop’ shop programmes that can be easily implemented, again using events as a starting point. So, by way of helping, why not take this test to see how well you know your local community. So here are 12 questions, that if you dont know the answer to – might be worth reflecting on how well as a church congregation the local community is known.
- What is the population of the ‘Parish/Parliamentary ward’ that your church is in?
- The nearest bus service to your church building – what time is the last bus?
- What are the names of all the head teachers in the primary schools in the area?
- What proportion of children are obese in the local community?
- What time does the local supermarket shut- and how much higher are the prices there compared with tescos?
- How many people are described as ‘very’ unhealthy as determined by NHS figures?
- What is the life expectancy in the community?
- Whats the figure for anti-social behaviour in the community- and where are the ‘hotspots’?
- Is the employment figure for the area – higher, lower or the same as the national average?
- How many people are regarded as ‘smokers’ in the local community?
- Whats the average rainfall for the local area?
- How many people who live within 1 mile of the church building – attend the church?
How well did you do? Of course, there are no right answers to these questions, because every situation is different. But how many of these questions do you think you know the answer to – or more specifically – know the answer to. Because it is important to know this kind of information in order so that the church can focus on what kind of ‘services’ it can provide, what kind of needs there are in the community, and how it can be useful and serve. Whether its foodbanks, youth clubs, meals, reading or job clubs – getting a handle on this kind of data is crucial for enabling a church to do mission well in a local community.
But actually it isnt.
Its because, nearly all of the answers to the questions above can be found by barely leaving an laptop. Most of them are found on government websites, in order that services, departments and resources can be allocated – is that the same game that the church is looking to play?
So, instead – these are the 12 questions that might help a church congregation know its local community?
- There was a birthday celebration in the pub down the street on friday night – what was the name of the persons birthday?
- What is the name of the favourite book of the child in year 5 who is often missing school due to family issues?
- The person who runs the newsagent, what football team does he support?
- The people who moved into the local area in the new houses just built, one family has a dog- what breed is it?
- Theres a group of residents campaigning for a local issue, whats the name of the fundraiser?
- Where do groups of young people sit and chat quietly together after 7pm?
- What do people say is good about the area, what makes it strong?
- What is already going on, and how might people want to contribute to make a difference locally?
- What brings the community together- apart from crisis?
- Who are the people in the community who act as its ‘helpers’ and contributors?
- Who brings colour and life to the community?
- Where might there be signs of faith already in the community?
Instead of responding to need, and becoming like another service, or projecting a view that people are projects to be solved. Being known in the local community is about being knowledgeable in the informal moments, the conversations and gathering points, the cafes and walkways. How might a church get to know its local community, and build connections within it, it needs to be present and communicate at the point of being present. 12 questions to help a church connect with its local community, and 12 that sadly can judge it from afar, and look at it through needs rather than human story perspective.