“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”Hosea 4:6 NKJV
None of us want to be the leader that God rejects because we rejected knowledge. Here is a critical piece of knowledge we tend to neglect; knowledge about the community. Our leadership impact will be measured by how well we reach those around us. If we do not investigate the needs of our communities, we will limit our effectiveness.
One of the reasons we reject knowledge about the community is we think we already know. But the truth is, we only know the part that’s in front of us. Let me explain. Before I became pastor of our church, I served for ten years as an associate, youth minister, and assistant pastor. After ten years of doing ministry in Tuskegee, Alabama, you’d think I would have an accurate picture of the makeup of the community. However, I was completely clueless.
Once I became pastor, I decided to learn more about the city and county. So I looked up the census data online. Here’s what I learned:
1. The population was on the decline.
2. More than half the households were single parent or single grandparent.
3. More than half the county lived below the poverty level.
4. Those 45 and younger made up the majority.
5. The median income is around $40,000.
I couldn’t see these truths from within the confines of our church and the circles with which I associated. Gaining this knowledge helped me shape our church ministry. Here is the strategy we used to increase our effectiveness as a result of this data.
1. Since the population was on the decline ( losing nearly 5000 people between the year 2000 and 2010 ) we began to focus on outreach. When I became pastor we had roughly 170 members. In the next two years we lost approximately 30 members. We’ve created an inviting culture at church and are now a 200 member church. The community is still on the decline but we’re still seeing steady growth.
2. To address the single family households we began to preach more about healthy families. This means we focus on helping families grow from where they are, rather than making them feel guilty about not being an ideal family (father, mother, and kids). Single parents in our church feel supported and encouraged because they know their past is behind them and God can shape the future for them and their children.
3. Our outreaches are more effective now because we focus on real needs, not perceived needs in the community. Because of the poverty statistics and single parent household statistics, we have partnered with the local food pantry to provide groceries for families, and we have school supply and Christmas toy drives to help the parents.
4. Knowing the majority of the community is 45 and below, we began to change our worship services to appeal to that demographic. Which means, my sermons are always less than 45 minutes ( between 25 and 35 minutes) because the attention span in this age group is short. We’re also using social media and our website to engage them and be more accessible.
5. Knowing the median income level we have realistic ideas about our church contributions. We stopped preaching about tithes and offerings. Don’t get me wrong, we teach the concept, but instead, we preach more about generosity. Oh, and any salaries we provide are based on real knowledge and reasonable expectations.
This is just a small sample of the things I’ve considered about our community. Your community may be vastly different from ours. You may have a large Hispanic population and benefit from hosting Spanish to English classes at your church. You may have a large retiree group that needs certain services your church can provide. Your church may need to adopt a nearby school to help positively influence students, parents, and teachers.
I encourage you to do the homework. Look up your community data. Have conversations with community leaders. Meet your city councilman. Visit your chamber of commerce. Then apply what you learn to help grow your influence.