Why Demographics Matter

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If you’ve been in church planting for any amount of time, at some point you have dealt with demographics. As a pastor, I believe it is just as important to know my demographics. However, most pastors have no idea what to do with demographics or even how to read them effectively and apply them.

Demographics are important. But, let me be particularly clear: demographics will never replace the working power of the Holy Spirit. Demographics are a tool to understand culture, age, ethnicity, education, ideology, and religion(s) in any specified region.

Demographics & Exegeting Culture

Exegesis. Before my undergrad work, I thought I knew the Bible—then I was introduced to exegesis—everything changed. Biblical exegesis is a critical examination and explanation of a text, employing the original languages of Scripture.

If I am assessing a church or church plant, an imperative question is, do you know the demographics of your neighborhood, community, or city? While some pastors may be able to spout off percentages, reality comes when there’s a lack of application and comprehension. Similarly, if I can see Greek words, but have no idea what they mean, I cannot exegete a Bible passage—I’ll need help.

So, let me provide some help in which exegeting demographics can assist you to understand your culture and context.

Targeting. I won’t dive too far into targeting, but it can be highly effective. If you don’t know whom you are targeting and why (besides the gospel), you will never know how. With the ever increasing population shift of people groups through immigration, urbanization, and gentrification, church leaders must know who is in their community, the projected growth, and why they are there. People don’t just migrate somewhere for no reason.

Targeting specific people groups within my neighborhood is done when I notice a growing population shift within a specific grouping. Maybe there is a rise in a particular ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, or socio-economic status. Targeting will help leaders critically examine and explain what is occurring in their region, along with actually reaching them.

Community Needs. Every community has a need —when exegeting a community, you may uncover areas of plight, addiction, homelessness, or any myriad of social injustice and demand. The church should not only be serving these needs, but reaching the people affected by them, with the gospel. A comprehensive approach to help break the chains of poverty, despair, and bondage are fundamentals of the gospel.

Areas of Resurgence. Perhaps within your community an old box store was torn down, an old strip mall demolished, or restaurant closed? What’s replacing it? That’s the question you need to be asking. Municipalities must have tax revenue. Something will either be built in tis place, or your community is seeing a decline, both provide ample answers. We need to be observant and do a little homework. Is the old strip mall being torn down for some surge of economic growth? If a new restaurant is being built—what type is it? What does that tell me about the neighborhood? Should the church be revisiting its vision?

Areas of resurgence seem to occur within regions periodically, or cyclically. We once were geared up for the suburban sprawl, as people left cities. Now, people are leaving the ‘burbs and flocking to urban neighborhoods. Likewise, trends are showing that Wal-Mart and some of the bigger corporations, like Anheuser Busch, are in decline, as Millennials shift to more organic shops and craft brews. What does that tell us? It tells us that the church may be seeing a shift in mega-churches, possibly seeing future decline, while smaller more personal churches/church plants may be seeing growth.

Demographics & Spiritual Pulse

Spiritual Warfare. When I came to Richmond I wanted to know a little more about where I was engaging gospel ministry. It was revealed that Richmond, Virginia was one of the few cities along the eastern seaboard that was not affected during the Great Awakening. As well, there was a notable revival among African-Americans just prior to the Civil War, but the war squashed the Spirit’s zeal. Why is that important? History tells me what occurred within my community.

I know that some may not be advocates of prayer-walking, but there is most definitely a spiritual warfare taking place behind the scenes of your church. Do your homework and know your history.

Assessing Culture. While the Apostle Paul walked around Athens he was assessing the culture (Acts 17:14–31). With demographics in hand, what should I be looking for? I think if we are wise stewards of this information, we try to assess who lives within our community, city, and region. We want to know which religions are here because they’re not the same, nor can they all be approached in the same manner. Likewise, ethnic groups are not the same and bring with them a culture, perhaps, much different than our own.

If I want to engage the culture, I need to get out and view the community (walk it, ride it, experience it) and then read the demographics. For instance, our church has an inner city Liberian church plant. In questioning their pastor, he expressed that he wanted to reach his neighborhood more. I took one glance at the demographics and assessed that he should engage the culture with diverse arts projects (graffiti & folk art), music, celebrate recovery, and helping homelessness. Did all of that come from one look at the demographics? No, it came from experiencing the neighborhood and then reading the demographics.

Demographics & Sermon Delivery

Contextualization. I’ll use the same passage from Acts 17:14–31 regarding the Apostle Paul. When Paul was in Athens, he wandered around the marketplace (17:19) and assessed the culture, what they bought, how they talked, what they talked about, and how they worshipped.

Paul was examining how he was going to deliver the gospel to the Athenian people. While he was exegeting the people, he must have witnessed or understood much about their culture because he utilized an Epicurean philosopher and a Greek Stoic to explain the gospel (17:28–29). This is so important.

As a pastor I need to know the education level of my audience. If I’m constantly utilizing twenty-dollar theological terms with a congregation of people that have not graduated high school then I will have a hard time contextualizing the gospel to them. This is true if I am reaching a different ethnic group, or socio-economic group, as well.

There’s no reason to spend countless hours studying and preparing a message that no one understands. Demographics will help you understand who are the people within your region and help you reach and teach them the gospel.

 

Tools for How to find demographics:

Mapping: www.peoplegroups.org; www.census.gov; www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/00

Community facts: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

Race/Ethnicity: www.factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?ref=addr&refresh=t

Psychographics (lifestyles, values): www.neilsen.com/us

Religious Data: www.thearda.com; www.religions.pewforum.org

 

Urban Areas Are Dynamically Changing—And Why The Church Better Prepare Now

As someone who assesses cultural trends, demographics, and global movements, it is not easy being a visionary and trainer. One of the hardest aspects for “early adopters” is translating what you see coming and getting others to invest in that vision. For the most part, only a small percentage of people are early adopters of vision and even a smaller part are vision casters.

adoptioncurve1

The Reality of Inner City Churches

It’s amazing how we view the works of Schaeffer, Wagner, or McGavran with deep regard, yet when they were writing, not many evangelicals paid attention to them. So, this leads us into what is happening with global movements, urban areas, and immigration.

If you’re a church planter or pastor and haven’t heard the term diaspora, you will. If you want to know what is coming to urban churches then studying diaspora movements (and immigration) is essential. One of the major shifts in global population is the flowing dispersion of immigrant people groups. God is sovereignly moving people around the globe like never before.

If we couple that with the influx of hipster urbanites, gentrification, and urban renewal, it’s a massive powder keg awaiting implosion with inner city churches—they are not prepared for what is coming. The reality—these churches will die out. With the movement of refugees—either fleeing persecution, or temporary visa status—for work—refugees are coming to cities all over the world.

What Immigration Tells Us

Western churches in urban areas will be forced to reach people of ethnicity—not that urban churches haven’t always tried this—but cities will be more ethnically and culturally diverse than ever. We should know that immigration to the United States is the only cause for population growth.[1] Where do the immigrants go? Cities.

Without immigrants (legal), the United States would not be growing in population, but plateauing or even declining. Just to clarify, if you’re linking immigration with the Hispanic culture, let me help you. Currently, Germany and Ireland are the top two countries with diaspora peoples coming to the U.S.—Mexico is third, but only by a small portion of one percent, compared to the United Kingdom (4th).[2]

How Does This Change Urban Evangelicalism?

Immigration and diaspora models play a huge role with engaging urban areas with the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20); as well as, the combined hipster, gentrification, and urban renewal (for taxation). I’ve heard it said, “We need to stop mega-churches from “gobbling” up old city churches for satellite campuses because they know nothing about the people in the city, plus there are extant churches available, which can do a better job.

Supposedly, the theory goes, there should not be mega-churches, or any Anglo church planters in urban areas because they are outsiders, do not understand the culture, and cannot engage the people. Another argument is Anglo church planters cannot reach African Americans, the prominent majority of urban population (I’ll refute this in a moment), and cause their churches to dwindle in attendance. The argument suggests that church planters and mega-churches should solely invest in small “indigenous” churches, working with and beside them. While I would have agreed with this model ten years ago (and to some extent do)—it’s as archaic as the tape cassette—well, maybe the CD.

Within the next five to ten years, domestic churches and church planters will be forced to reach across the cultural lines of socio-economic barriers, engage ethnic diversity evangelistically with E–2 to E–3 evangelism, and evaluate demographic and ethnic data. If a church doesn’t know who is in its neighborhood, it cannot reach it.

Ethnic Diversity

Take a look at any recent urban demographic data and compare it to fifteen years ago. Census reports won’t show the true picture, as many of the people groups living within a city either fail to report their true identity or will not report at all (mainly because of privacy, legal issues, or fear). Think about the major influx of Islam in just fifteen years and how many mosques are now within your city.

Earlier I stated that I would refute why African American churches should be the only churches to plant churches or do Great Commission work in urban areas. Why not? It makes sense, right? The reason is because the advice is antiquated. It’s a tape cassette. While I devoutly pray that brothers and sisters in Christ (and all people) would no longer view skin color, that we would invest in urban African American projects, events, and churches, and have more African American church planters, dialogue, and such—the fact is—immigration is a game-changer! African American culture will be melded into the many ethnic cultures already here and arriving. To reach an entire city it is going to take a concerted effort of all peoples.

Most cities, like Richmond, Virginia (a smaller scaled city) are becoming more and more ethnically diverse: Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European. To think that things are going to stay the same, especially in light of gentrification (even though I disagree with it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening), are antiquated and ignorant. Urban churches wishing to survive must engage foreign people groups. They’re here and more are coming.

The Good News

First, we have the ability to know, study, engage, meet, and communicate with every people group within our cities. I personally know that major missionary organizations are working side-by-side in mapping the nations within cities. This information is available and can assist churches and church planters in engaging urban areas with the gospel. Here’s a good resource from Keelan Cook.

Second, the nationalities sometimes have unreached people groups (UPGs) among them. We’ve seen this here in Richmond. Many of the refugees will one day desire to go back home—what better way to engage missions than to have UPGs return to “go and make disciples” in their own homeland.

Lastly, churches should be working together, collaboratively, as kingdom workers to reach every city with the gospel. However, this is going to take a multi-pronged approach. Existing mega-churches should find ways to purchase dying empty church sarcophaguses—keeping these “kingdom properties.” Targeting areas of resurgent growth and ethnically diversified areas with house churches works well, as a church planting movements may manifest. Strengthening and revitalizing churches, which can be saved, and ones within lower socio-economic areas are a must. Some of these areas may need food dispensaries, job creating, and addictions help—to break chains of poverty. As well, traditional style church planting (having a sending church) and more innovative church planting techniques (parachuting) must be implemented. We’re all on the same team—let’s reach our cities and the peoples of the world.

 

[1] Steven A. Camarota, “Projecting Immigration’s Impact On the Size and Age Structure of the 21st Century American Population,” http://www.cis.org, December, 2012, accessed September 3, 2015, http://cis.org/projecting-immigrations-impact-on-the-size-and-age-structure-of-the-21st-century-american-population.

[2] Susanna Groves, “Http: //www.diasporaalliance.org,” http://www.diasporaalliance.org, March 13, 2015, accessed September 3, 2015, http://www.diasporaalliance.org/americas-largest-diaspora-populations/.

Urban Church Planting and The Diaspora

If you’re a church planter and you haven’t heard the term diaspora, you will—soon enough. One of the major shifts in global population is the flowing dispersion of immigrant people groups. Envision how airplane traffic controllers track flights.

The world is seeing great numbers of people shifting from country to country. Whether the movement is due to refugees—fleeing persecution, or for temporary visa status—for work—regardless, the peoples of the world are on the move—and God is doing something amazing! He’s bringing people to us.

What Immigration Tells Us

Western churches, especially urban church plants, will be forced to reach people of ethnicity—not that urban churches haven’t always done this—as cities become more diverse than culturally segregated (think Chinatown, Little Italy, etc.). The good news comes to us by reaching the diaspora of the nations.[1] Almost makes me think of Psalm 2:8, “All the nations you have made shall come…”

Immigration to the United States is the cause for population growth.[2] Without immigrants (legal), the United States would not be growing in population, but declining. Just to clarify, if you’re linking immigration with the Hispanic culture, let me help you. Currently, Germany and Ireland are the top two countries with diaspora peoples coming to the U.S.—Mexico is third, but only by a small portion of one percent, compared to the United Kingdom (4th).[3]

Being Great Commission Churches

Great Commission (Matt 28:19) churches will need to engage the diasporic peoples in order to see the gospel delivered domestically and globally. With the recent news of the IMB’s shortfall and need to release close to 800 people, churches will once again have the pressure of the Great Commission task. This may be a good thing (not people being laid-off, that’s always bad), in the sense that churches will be forced to evaluate their understanding of the missio Dei.

So, if we cannot send more missionaries overseas, what is the answer that God may be giving us? Here’s the bigger picture: there are immigrants who choose to return back to their homeland after getting settled within a new country; those who do return are known as the diaspora.[4] Reaching the diasporic peoples within urban communities is one way to help spread the gospel, while alleviating the costs of training international missionaries.

How Does This Effect Church Planting?

The immigration “game” and diasporic models play a huge role in urban church planting. Since urban areas across the globe are growing (urbanization) then planting more churches within the urban context is necessary. Domestic church planters will be expected to reach across cultures, socially and evangelistically. We call this E–2 to E–3 evangelism.

To see a true church planting movement (CPM) occur within the U.S., church planters must be prepared to contextualize the gospel with simplicity—for the purpose of reproducibility. The current model is not sustainable; meaning, we cannot expect to wait for church planters to graduate seminaries and become some type of dynamic leader. Only a lay leader style of bi-vocational (at best) ministry is simply reproduced through discipleship—much like the first century or any major CPM in history.

Regardless, things are changing, and if you’re an urban church planter or a pastor, you might want to begin considering how you are going to reach these people groups. But don’t worry, this stuff is what guys like me study and try to develop (working on it now!). Just think about it. Tell me your thoughts…


[1] J.D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigrations, Migration, and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2012), 151.

[2] Steven A. Camarota, “Projecting Immigration’s Impact On the Size and Age Structure of the 21st Century American Population,” http://www.cis.org, December, 2012, accessed September 3, 2015, http://cis.org/projecting-immigrations-impact-on-the-size-and-age-structure-of-the-21st-century-american-population.

[3] Susanna Groves, “Http: //www.diasporaalliance.org,” http://www.diasporaalliance.org, March 13, 2015, accessed September 3, 2015, http://www.diasporaalliance.org/americas-largest-diaspora-populations/.

[4] Payne, Pressure Points, 9-10.