Carl Dudley, Professor of Church and Society at Hartford Seminary before his death in 2009, was keenly focused on the social context of ministry. In a community ministry handbook, he offers steps in analyzing your community:
Step One: Define Your Community
Physical Boundaries. These include major streets, highways, or railroad tracks, or natural boundaries such as hills, valleys and rivers.
Anchor Institutions, such as schools, hospitals, prisons, military facilities, or recreational facilities, provide the basic sources of power and decision making in the community. Like a ship’s anchor, they provide stability in a storm. But they also may prevent a community from moving forward in calm or changing times.
Gathering Places, such as churches, parks, schools, service clubs, restaurants, taverns and street corners
Step Two: Identify the People
Observe Populations and Lifestyles. This could be done through group discussion and storytelling, or through actual visual observation, such as the “windshield survey,” a quick drive or walk through the neighborhood.
Note Historical Changes and Current Trends. Rather than getting bogged down in a historical study, ask, “How changes over the past five years let to our present situation, and what do the next five years look like?”
Review Statistical Summaries. Since the time Dudley wrote, demographic information has proliferated on the web, with MissionInsite (www.missioninsite.come) being the most helpful tool for faith-based groups wanting to sifting through demographic data.
Step Three: Find the “Invisible” People.
If we want to shape a more just society, we need to deliberately focus on marginalized, powerless and invisible people in the community. Becoming aware of our often unconscious bias in favor of people with social, economic and political power is a first step.
Step Four: Analyze the Intangible Forces.
Examples here might include laws that affect the people you want to reach, the cultural values held by local residents or employment patterns and job security.
 Carl S. Dudley, Community Ministry: New Challenges, Proven Steps to Faith-Based
Initiatives (Bethesda, Md.: Alban Institute, 2002), 22- 50.
Photo: Simon Cunningham, 12.18.2013. Flickr Creative Commons.