Analyzing the Community

This part of the planning determines the opportunities and the threats. This is the OT of the SWOT analysis. What is the community to be analyzed? This step looks at the other churches in the community to determine the threats, and it examines the people in the community to determine the opportunities.

Much public information is available on population trends that will help with this part of the study. Many communities have an office of planning and zoning that has data available. The United States Bureau of the Census has an unbelievable amount of information from the United States Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. Many organizations will utilize an outside consultant to assist with the external environmental analysis.

Some of the types of information the group should find would be as shown below:
1. Information on population: total, ages, races, income level, education level, religious makeup, and trends of change.
2. Information on housing: number of units, number of units owned by people living in them, number of residents per unit, age of housing units, value of housing units, length of time residents lived in housing units.
3. Information on community needs: racial, special education, senior adult programs, day care, tutoring, juvenile delinquents, drug and alcohol abuse, home for unwed mothers, institutions with needs for ministry, and what programs are attempting to meet the needs.

The church can then decide the kind of people that present the best target for them to reach. They can decide which of those groups the church is best equipped to reach. They can discover what styles of evangelism will match the target population. Personalize the target audience. Both Rick Warren at Saddleback church and Bill Hybels at Willowcreek have personalized their target audience and named them Saddleback Sam and Unchurched Harry. Saddleback Sam is married to Samantha and they have two kids, Steve and Sally. He is an unchurched man, late 30s or early 40s, college degree and may have an advanced degree, married, likes his job, likes where he lives, is enjoying life. He is self-satisfied, a professional, a manager, or a successful entrepreneur, is affluent, but deep in debt, health and fitness are high priorities, he has an unlisted telephone number and may live in a gated community. He is skeptical of what he calls “organized religion.” He prefers casual, informal meetings, and loves to dress down. He is very materialistic.

Development of a planning base

The community survey gathers a lot of data which must be screened and summarized. The objective of this analysis is to isolate the events which have the highest probability of occurrence and will significantly impact the organization. The analysis of the church and community survey will reveal the current position, and this serves as a baseline against which to measure future developments. Usually three scenarios are presented from this baseline: the best case, the worst case, and the most probable case. These multiple scenarios permit a degree of sensitivity analysis of the impact of the strategies during subsequent steps in the process.

This base will provide basic planning assumptions. An assumption is what you believe to be true. It is your judgment of what the available facts mean. They should be about your church and your community. Church assumptions could be about growth, finances, buildings, staff, membership, and location. Community assumptions could be about population, wages, life style, etc. Assumptions can be about the present or the future. They can be specific, such as the one dealing with the rate of inflation, or more general, such as one dealing with shifts in people’s basic views. Planning assumptions provide complementary information bases to those provided by forecasts. They permit the planner to complete the model of the future that can be used as the basis for evaluating and selecting strategic objectives. Although the future cannot be accurately predicted, the current situation and trends can be analyzed and this information can be used as a basis for communicating expectations to guide organizational planning. This is where some “what if” games can be played on a computer spread sheet with real meaning.

Examples of assumptions based on the community:
1. The average wage level in our area will go up.
2. There will be a shorter work week in the next five years.
3. ___% of the residents in our community will be retired by 20___.
4. More families will require some kind of day-care assistance for young children by 20___.
5. A year round schedule will soon be used by public schools.

Example of assumptions based on the church:
1. Our church will grow spiritually and numerically.
2. Our budget will double in the next six years.
3. Our church will need a new building by 20___.
4. Our church will need to add an additional pastor by 20___.
5. A day care center will be started by our church.
6. More members of the church are becoming inactive.
7. Our current educational program fails to prepare our members for mission.

If the church assumes a growth rate of members and attenders of 10% each year, then you can project out 5–10 years and see what the membership and attendance would be. If you know the projected attendance, and the average amount of offering per attender now, you can make assumptions about the increase in average gifts per attender, and determine an estimate of giving each year for the next 10 years. If you know the projected attendance, you can determine when new building space will be required, and when additional staff members will be required. A good set of assumptions can help you predict the future. If you based the growth on 10% increase in attendance, you can play the “what if” game and change that to 7% or to 15% and see how the change in your assumptions will alter your projections.

Here the planners create an image of the organization’s future preferred state. They seek to answer two questions: What should we do? How can we do it? The current characteristics of the organization are changed into those desired in the future. The process of strategy choice can be thought of as consisting of three elements: strategy development, refinement, and evaluation.

The planners can now decide on one of the basic types of strategies.
1. A stability strategy calls for continuing into the future what the organization has been doing.
2. Growth strategy may be through internal or external growth or through diversification.
3. Retrenchment strategy is used if an organization reduces its scale or level of operations.

The strategy must contain the following elements: scope, results, test of consistency, and implementation. The test of consistency will compare the strategy’s scope and objectives to the planning base.

A host of questions should be answered at this stage of the process. How do people feel about our ministry? Will our ministry become more or less stable? Where is the greatest support for our ministry? What kind of people do we attract? Are more of the kind of people we attract available? Will the church grow? Will the finances increase? What will impact our ministry (community changes, economic changes, changes in life style, etc.)?

This base should identify areas of concern in the church and community that need to be addressed. These areas of concern may be problems, opportunities, issues, or needs. Concerns provide the link between the raw material from the church and community to the goals that will be set. For example, a concern could be a need to reactivate inactive members and prevent new member drop out. This was based on two facts: 33% of members are inactive and 33% of new members are not regular 6–12 months after joining. Another example could be a concern for unsaved people in community. This could be based on a fact like: 60% of people in two miles of the church are unsaved.

Studying the Church

Three things are a part of this process: information collection, analysis, and feedback. This part of the planning will involve a gathering and analysis of data (past, present, and future) that provides a base for pursuing the planning process. It should identify and analyze the key trends, forces, and phenomena having a potential impact on the formulation and implementation of strategies. The planning committee is attempting at this stage to answer the questions: Where are we? Where did we come from? How well are we doing? The two sources of information for this study are records and reports of the church and a survey of church opinions.

The internal analysis consists of an assessment of the organization strengths and limitations. It seeks to determine how well the church is doing. Essentially, it is an appraisal of how well the organization is accomplishing its objectives. Examples of factors considered are membership, programs, staff, facilities, finances, worship, missions, fellowship, and publicity. Much of the strategic change process necessarily focuses on the development, mobilization, and allocation of resources, physical, personnel and financial, to carry out a new direction or to implement a new action. Facilities are often a crucial item.

The committee needs to look back 5–10 years and try to establish trends that will help it to answer the questions above. The committee needs to ask questions of themselves, and the church membership such as: What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? What suggestions for improvement can be made? The group needs to look at the effectiveness of the church. This is a hard task, and there is more discussion and opinion than hard facts.

History of church – when organized, number of charter members, reason for starting, pastors and their ministries, new buildings, splits, churches started, growth trends, and factors that affected growth. The study should place the church in the organization life-cycle as presented in an earlier chapter.

Church programs – for each major program of the church, the attendance, the membership (by age and sex), and the workers. The programs to be included include the following:

a. Pastoral ministries – should be examined in such areas as worship services, outreach, following pastor, and the work of deacons.

b. Educational program – should be examined in such areas as teacher training, growth, and meeting needs of everyone.

c. Mission programs – should be examined in such areas as congregation involved, enough funds, and broad enough support.

d. Recreation programs – should be examined in such areas as for all ages, good philosophy, leadership, and facilities.

As the internal analysis is being conducted, it is very important that the particular programs are not considered in isolation. Programs cannot be considered in isolation, since they often interact with one another and they compete with one another for the scarce resources of the organization.

Finances – chart by year the total receipts, total disbursements, mission expenditures, salary expenditures, debt retirement, building costs; and gather current data on the budget, the debt, the assets, the weekly giving pattern with the number of givers at various contribution levels.

Facilities – consider the capacity, the average use, the need and the condition of the land, parking lot, auditorium, educational space, the fellowship areas, and the administrative areas.

Membership – determine the total active and inactive by ages, the number that join each year by baptism and by letter, the number that leave each year by letter, by death, or to other denominations, the length of time people are members, if they own or rent their dwelling, average income level, marital status, educational achievement, type of vocation and distance traveled to the church.

Staff – job descriptions, personnel policies, selection process, compensation, records, supervision, morale.

A survey form for church participants to fill out is very significant for this part of the study. It might be distributed in 2–3 weeks of Sunday morning worship services to get the highest percentage of responses. (Samples of these forms are available in many strategic planning books.) A form should be devised with multiple answers that are easy to check off. Information to ask for on the survey could include:

I. Personal information:
a. Gender
b. Age
c. Marital status
d. Time of membership in years
e. Time of living in community
f. Distance live from the church
g. Frequency of attendance of church
h. Services usually attended at church:
i. Number of ministry positions at the church
j. Reasons (1, 2, 3) that you attend this church
k. Number of close friends in this church

II. Church information:
(You might use below average, average, above average to rate the following.)
a. Potential for growth of church
b. Church involvement with helping people in need
c. Outreach program
d. Discipleship training program
e. Children’s program
f. Youth program
g. Music program
h. Prayer program
i. Church member visitation program
j. Preaching program
k. Communication program
l. Visitors would find the church (not friendly, friendly, very friendly)
m. Priorities of the church should be (number 1–5, 1 being most important)
n. Programs that should receive more emphasis in the church (list programs)
o. Programs the church should start are _____
p. In the next 10 years, the church could grow to an attendance of _____
q. I wish the pastor would _____
r. Major issue facing church next 5 years is _____
s. Our biggest need in facilities right now is _____

III. Survey might also deal with specific issues that are confronting the church:
a. Times of worship services
b. Music for worship services
c. Next staff member to add
d. etc.

Surveys like this are available to be looked at; design one that will fit your church best. The survey can give you factual information about members and also opinion information about how the church is perceived by the members.

If data is available to do comparisons of data from your church and from a group of other churches, or from national figures, this will help immensely with the analysis and interpretation. Having raw data is sometimes meaningless unless there is something to compare the data with. The comparison may be on the basis of percentages or of ratios.

This is a major part of the study, and when it is completed, the committee will have a very good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the church. They will know who the church is, and where it has come from.