Elements in Surveying a Neighborhood in Church Planting

I’m in the middle of a church planting class.  I thought I’d share my notes on how to survey a neighborhood, in other words, how to understand the context (either a neighborhood or a particular niche community) in which you plant to plant a church.  In what follows are my notes.  Yes, they are raw.  Hope that they mostly make sense 🙂

There are five basic components:


  • This is often “underrated”
    • Provides essential foundations
  • Observe…
    • Buildings, activities, communities, etc.
    • How does the neighborhood function?  How is it changing?  How is it changing?
    • What is important to the particular people being “targeted?”
    • WALK not drive.
      • Prayer walking… invaluable.
      • Camera to communicate the vision to others
    • Visit areas at different times and days to see the life rhythms of the neighborhood
    • Interpret spiritual messages of the culture and buildings, etc
      • Life giving? Oppressive?
    • Sit.  Don’t “do something” until later
      • Don’t just do something, sit there! (rather than: Don’t just sit there, do something!)
    • Don’t start formal programs for at least a year (Urban Expression policy for UK)
      • Observe and get integrated into the new location


  • Listen to stories
  • Ask good questions
  • Snowball conversations… ask people to referrals to other people (Who knows what’s happening in this neighborhood?)


  • Wealth of information is available
    • Planning department
    • Wikipedia
    • Voluntary agencies
    • Census data
    • Groups or subgroups with particular needs as well… beyond just the niche or popular culture being targeted


  • Identify key questions and has my info given any good answers (these should actually be a guide and then only new questions need to be asked as they arise in the interpretation process)
  • Look at how gospel affirms and challenges the culture and its norms
  • Redemptive analogies in the community that illustrate the good news that we can draw upon?  Paul was good at this.


  • SO WHAT?
    • Has this info and interpretation led to a sense of vocation and has it shaped how we create our ethos?
      • This is often ignored by church planters who have preconceived notions of a structured plan.  In other words, “My church will look like ‘this’ so the data isn’t gonna change that!”
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  • This is such a critical process.  We spent (and continue to spend) a great deal of time and energy exegeting our community.  It is so essential.

    Are you familiar with Dr. Glenn Smith of Christian Direction in Montreal?  Worth checking out for this topic.