In the last few years there’s been a surge of congregations interested in their communities. Nearly 10% of all Center for Congregations calls include some type of community involvement. For many congregations, the first step is to gather data about the area.
The Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) provides the ARDA Community Profile Builder, a free demographic data tool for clergy and lay leaders to learn about people and assets in their communities. This unique tool allows users to view the many characteristics of their communities by searching by ZIP code or local address.
How to Use the Community Profile Builder
- Go to this web address: http://www.thearda.com/demographicMap/ and enter your ZIP code, city and state, or address in the box at the top of the page and click “Go.” After clicking “Go,” the map will take you to your community and show you all congregations in the area.
- Enter the radius (in miles) that you would like the online tool to include. One option is to think of driving distance. How far do people typically travel to attend your congregation?
- Click on the map to set the center point for the radius you selected. A dashed circle will appear showing you the areas from which the tool will draw its data.
- Click the “Profile” button. This will generate your report for the area you selected.
The generated report can include eight different community metrics from religion and housing to income level and ethnicity. It can even include population projections.
Using the Data
This data can help your congregation consider community needs before investing your resources. As an example, in the report you just created look at the Gender/Age tab. A growing number of children could mean an opportunity for children’s programming or a daycare. On the other hand, if there are no young adults nearby, you could make a strategic decision to focus your efforts elsewhere. You might even consider a new building location based on community factors.Want to start learning about your community based on data and not conjecture? Go to http://www.thearda.com/demographicMap/ to get started!
ARDA’s Community Profile Builder is completely free thanks to generous support from the Lilly Endowment and others. The ARDA, which is housed at Pennsylvania State University and has been online since 1998, has more than 16 million pages of content, from profiles of hundreds of past and present religious groups in America to denominational reports and survey findings. Thanks to ARDA Assistant Director Andrew Whitehead for providing this information.
Increasingly, all kinds of congregations are actively externally focused. I’ve observed this since 2008. The change is remarkable. Really!
The energy is so powerful. The conversations exciting. The possibilities abundant.
At the Center for Congregations, we receive calls daily from congregational leaders and members inquiring about outreach.
“We want to start a partnership with the local public school.”
“Our congregation has started a new mental health support group.”
“How do we establish a separate 501 (c) 3 related to job training?”
The academic work of the missional church movement has filtered down to the local congregation in positive ways.
There’s a generational shift too
Many young adults find it deeply meaningful to be of service to others. Congregations with young adults are looking at social service and social entrepreneurship. I have been in contact with numerous congregations that have active young adult membership. The focus of these congregations is faith formation, relationships and community engagement. I’m convinced the appearance of these creative, often flourishing, congregations are underreported when we talk about the state of congregational life.
It is ironic that sociological studies report that congregations are declining when their social impact is increasing. Ram Cnaan writes about the effect of congregations on their urban communities. This kind of outreach must be intensifying across the country. Check out Cnaan’s book The Other Philadelphia Story: How Local Congregations Support Quality of Life in Urban America at http://thecrg.org/resources/the-other-philadelphia-story-how-local-congregations-support-quality-of-life-in-urban-america.