Tell me if this description fits: you’re a centuries (or maybe decades) old congregation in a rapidly changing community of the coastal plain or Pee Dee area of South Carolina. For years you’ve been trying to “reach young families” or, more recently, “engage millennials,” but you aren’t really sure where to begin. Does that sound familiar? It could be the constant refrain of many a church in South Carolina and certainly for many in our Diocese! Where is one even to begin?
An important starting place is by asking ourselves a few questions:
- Who are we?
- Who are our neighbors?
- How can we be better neighbors in our community?” (see Romans 15:1-2 for but one Scriptural imperative).
Such questions allow us to thoughtfully consider how our congregations both reflect and diverge from the communities they serve. Further, these questions invite us to consider how our congregations may then bring the Gospel into these communities in a way that showers their particular concerns, particular fears, particular shame, and particular guilt with the all-encompassing love of Christ.
To that end, the Diocese of South Carolina has recently contracted with a church-focused community demographics company, MissionInsite, to provide demographic insight into both our congregations and our communities so we can begin to answer the questions above. The depth and quantity of data and insight this software can provide is significant, enabling our parishes to explore:
- How their surrounding neighborhoods are changing
- Who is moving in
- The lifestyle they lead
- The concerns they have with the church
- The struggles they face on a day-in, day-out basis
- And the list goes on!
Further, the software also provides similar information on our own congregations, allowing a church to compare who they are with the community they serve. All of this information can help equip our churches to be “good neighbors” who desire to know the people in their community and serve them with the grace of the Gospel. How might our parishes’ outreach or evangelism models change if they had a fuller picture of the community in which they lived? How might we minister to this community if we understood their particular concerns, especially if those concerns were quite different from our own? Finally, how might this data inform the strategic and challenging decisions of church planting and, possibly, relocating?
In his address to the Diocesan Convention, Bishop Lawrence called us to go out into our neighborhoods and communities, inviting the Lord of the harvest to sow the good news of Jesus into the hearts of all who would hear it.
MissionInsite can help equip us for this call. Every parish and mission in the Diocese has access to this software and all of the data it provides.
Will this data translate to people in the pews or money in the offertory plate? Only time will tell, but such metrics should not be our goal in the first place! We are about the Kingdom, and being good neighbors to those who do know as well as those who do not know the Lord.
Thus, as we go out loving those in our communities as Christ loved us, we do so as educated, informed, and gracefully curious neighbors.