Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Secret to Understanding Demographics

The Secret to Understanding Demographics

Let's get to the point. Demographics are misleading. I didn't think so four years ago. I had the best demographics for our church plant. I studied them and even memorized certain portions. But it didn't prepare me and truth be known it didn't even help me. Yes. I said that. They were misleading because I was not taught the secret of demographics. 

If you view demographics as just numbers, stats and ratios then you will be misled. 

The culture behind the numbers and stats are more important than the numbers themselves. For instance, you may have "City A" with 40% of the population 20-40 years old. So, you assume that you will mostly reach that group. So you sit in an office and make a plan based on those demographics. After a while you find out why you are not reaching that group. You moved from "City B" and reaching that group is like shooting fish in a barrel. You pop up a church and boom- they come. It's not happening here in "City A." Why? The culture is totally different. 

You need to put culture to your demographics. You can't exegete your culture by numbers on paper. You have to be baptized in that culture. For those pastors and planters who grew up or pastored previously in the city they do ministry in it's much easier. But if you are a church planter or accepting a pastoral assignment in another area then you need the numbers and stats but don't make any assumptions based on your previous culture. 

4 Things to Remember: 

1. All cultures are unique and different. Chicago and Atlanta are metro cities but totally different. Their cultures are very different. Find out what makes the culture unique there. Certain portions of the US have culture pockets. Some pastors work better in their culture pocket. A pastor from NY may not do very well in a Southern rural town just as the country preacher from a rural town may not make it in Seattle. 

2. Don't base your target on demographics alone. 
Get baptized in the culture. I worked for a government agency helping folks who were unemployed get back to work. I saw hundreds per week in South FL. I quickly realized the culture and my estimation of demographics were wrong!

3. Talk to the locals. 
Talk to pastors, natives and pilgrims. When I planted my first church I resisted the wisdom of local pastors. Granted most of them were very negative and cynical but I did not listen. In my most recent endeavor I just sat in onunch meetings and asked questions. Also, listen to the natives. Read responses to online newspaper articles. Find those who have been there for years and ask them questions. Also, talk to Pilgrim's. find out why people are moving to your community.

4. Don't ignore demographics. 
At first glance of this article it may seem that I am downing demographics. Not so. Learn them. Memorize them and adjust accordingly. 

The secret is to know the culture of each people group in the demographic that is represented. This is an ongoing task. Don't think you have it figured out after 3 months or 6 months of being there. You will continue to exegete and excavate that culture that will give you more insigt on the numbers and percentages. So, never recite numbers with out attaching the local culture if every group represented.

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