In the early stage of any strategic planning process, it is critical to take a close look at the congregation and the community in order to clearly understand the needs of people both inside and outside the congregation. While written for an audience of religion researchers, this web page offers a plethora of tips, tools, and links to help a congregation better understand its current situation. For example, links to U.S. Census and other demographic information can help you assess your specific geographic context and trends. Planning team members might use the congregational observation guide authored by Hartford Seminary professor Dr. Scott L. Thumma to gather information on other congregations in the community. If you choose to survey members of your congregation, there are tips for survey construction and a congregation survey question bank to get you started. All of these methods can greatly enhance your understanding of the congregation’s context and strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) for the purposes of strategic planning.