GIS + Ministry: A match made in...

GIS + Ministry: A match made in…

The rainy, grey weather this morning [Seattle’s version of summer], didn’t bother me as I left my 8am meeting. Part of my responsibility as Director of Outreach at First United Methodist Church in Seattle is to head up the community groups. I met with the head of our adult council and ministry intern to vision our community group ministry for the year. As the three of us gathered over coffee at the local direct-trade coffee shop, an architect; seminary student-barista; and I [seminary student-communications/outreach director] began to cast a vision for what small group ministry could look like in a congregation situated in an affluent-urban-predominantly single-professional-type of neighborhood with members who commute anywhere from .5-30 miles away.

2010 census map for 98109

The New York Times 2010 Census Map of 98109, the zip where First Church is located.

As our conversation turned from the make-up of a small group [conversations, participation, discipleship, attendance] to metrics, we all kind of lit up when we started talking about infographics and surveys as tools for ministry. So, we ran with it. What if we developed a congregational survey that could help us understand where our congregation spends their time outside of Sunday worship? Where do they work? Drop their kids off at school? Go out to eat or have coffee? How many church activities do they participate in? Then what if we took this info and imposed it on a map of the city so we could see where clusters formed? What the relationships are among all of these factors? I know it seems like a ridiculously meticulous survey and probably a pain in the ass to fill out, but if we did it right, imagine the information we could have to inform ministry decisions.

Between the information we have from outfits like MissionInsite or from our conference’s District Planning and Strategy team and conversations in the community, we have a number of tools we can access to create something great. With a combination of vibrant worship and authentic community that is partly informed by this data, I am hopeful that the ministry at church will reflect the spiritual and social needs of our local community.

I enjoy data gathering and crunching as much as the next person [I really do] but I haven’t lost sight of the need to also gather the stories that give life to this data. If anyone has any good systems in place that can do this well, I’m all ears.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be starting with a draft of the congregational survey while also beginning to map out a strategic plan for our community group ministry and some sort of manual/resource for our lay pastors and group leaders. Once we finalize the survey, we’ll use google forms or surveymonkey to send it out, then run the data with a friend who has agreed to help using ArcGIS.

Watch for updates. Would love to hear what’s working where you do ministry.