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Processing the Community Study Report


Many churches that undertake a community assessment do the study, write the report, file
the report, and forget about the report. But a community study is not information for
information's sake; it is gathered for the purpose of equipping the church to share the good
news of the gospel in word and deed. Keep this goal in mind. If you allow your study
committee to get bogged down in statistics or overwhelmed with details, you will end up
with "paralysis of analysis."

Use the following reflection questions to guide the analysis of the self-study report. The
leadership group may opt to process the community report at the same time as the ministry
assessment and church self-study, preferably during a retreat or in a worshipful setting free
of distractions. Dedicate time in this process to prayer. The insights yielded by this analysis,
together with the self-study, can then inform the larger process of discerning your church's
vision for holistic mission and developing a strategic ministry plan.

1. What aspects of community life need to be transformed by God's holy love?
Seeing brokenness around us should stir up what activist David Frenchak calls a "holy
discontent." The whole creation groans under its bondage to decay, says Romans 8:21-22,
and we too groan in our spirits as we yearn for Christ's complete redemption. What about
the community grieves you, raises your hackles, fills you with a yearning to see things
change? Who in the community is crying out for God's healing touch?

List the needs and issues that the church could respond to. Consider both the needs that
are manifest in the lives of individuals (divorce, addictions, disabilities), and the problems
that affect systems and institutions (immigration policies, juvenile courts, access to health
care). Make sure that your responses reflect what members of the community themselves
say are priority concerns, not just the needs that seem most obvious to "outsiders."

Address this question from a holistic perspective, tuning in to both spiritual and material
needs. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see the community through God's eyes, looking past
the outward appearance of things to the heart of the matter (1 Samuel 16:7). In more
affluent communities, we may be inclined to conclude that the church's services are not
needed. But polished exteriors can mask many forms of brokenness—family conflict,
addictions, the scars of abuse, spiritual emptiness. And in low-income communities, while
the eye is naturally drawn to physical evidence of need—graffiti, abandoned buildings, trash
blowing along the street—God can redirect our vision to the asset He cares about most:
the people.

2. How is God is already at work in the community?
To be effective in ministry, we need to get on board with what God is already doing. A
community study becomes a treasure hunt for the wheat of God's activity, hidden among
the tares (Matt. 13:24-30). This approach is especially essential for distressed
neighborhoods or people groups that are usually viewed in terms of their problems. Ask the
Lord to show you where His reign is already evident in the community.

While we naturally gravitate toward the movers and shakers, Scripture makes it plain that
God also (or even primarily) works among those at the margins. Look for the people who
demonstrate God's love and build up the community through the rhythms of ordinary life,
like teachers, homemakers, and sports league coaches. Identify those who have a "fire in
their belly" for justice. Don't limit your search to Christians — remember that God called
the idolatrous king Nebuchadnezzar "my servant" (Jer. 27:6). God can work through any
person or institution to accomplish His aims.

Develop an appreciation for ministry assets in the community. How might the church
nurture a relationship with these assets and support the community development work that
is already taking place? How might the church invite members of the community to join the
church in doing the work of the kingdom? Consider also the ways your church is already
being used by God to bless your community.

3. What might God desire for this community?
What would God's "shalom" (peace and wholeness) look like in your community? Drawing
on the extravagant stock of biblical promises, ask God what it would mean if the prayer,
"Your Kingdom come," were answered in this community. This is the time for exercising the
sanctified imagination, for holy dreaming. What could this community be like if people
embraced God's transforming redemption, if neighbors loved one another, if the natural
environment was flourishing, if social institutions treated people as responsible, valued
creations made in the image of God?

This step requires caution, however. There's a fine line between dreaming of desired
changes, and imposing your will on others. Never assume that you know what is best for
other people. Your vision must take the hopes and dreams of members of the community
into account. This means building relationships with people and really listening to them.

4. How could our church participate in God's redemptive plans for the community?
Having laid out the needs, the assets, and the long-range vision, now ask: "So, what can
we do about it?" Brainstorm a list of possible church responses to community issues.
Include potential ministries as well as non-programmatic ideas like "making church services
more appealing to the dominant culture in the community." Take special note of ministry
ideas that have some grounding in things that the church or individual church members or
people in the community are already doing. Push for ministry possibilities that are holistic
— that touch people's lives spiritually, socially, and relationally, as well as seeking the good
of the community on a more systemic level.

At this point, don't try to limit your ideas to what is practical or realistic. Make room for
possibilities that are so big that only God could bring them about. This step is a part of the
process of narrowing down the options to discern a specific ministry call, based on a range
of factors. See the Mission / Vision Discernment Guide for more details on this crucial

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