Knowing your audience is absolutely the basis of what we do. Universal axioms like: "Everyone has the same need, Jesus" is so shallow, that it is hardly applicable for ministry purposes. We do well in having graded-ministries for age categories and various needs of life experience. Somehow that begins to break down when we go cross-cultural or even make the assumption that everyone after 18 years of age can be put into one worship experience.
Understanding felt needs does not dumb down the gospel (unless you allow that to happen), it creates thirst. Be salty. And pure.
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1. Use your eyes.
Take walks through the community and take notice of commonalities. Where do family units spend their time? What businesses draw interest among your target audience? What colors are popular? Are houses clean and well kept? Does that indicate that people place more emphasis on things or on relationships? When do people gather?
2. Local authorities.
Within German communities your local governmental offices (Rathaus) will have community breakdowns along demographic lines. Reference these. If your strength is young families, then you would certainly want to count the number of young families within your area. If there has been a trend for young teens to move away to find jobs, then what demographic is staying in your area? What is their educational level? - which will determine what language and intellectual level you will need to use.
Don't forget to search out school authorities and ask them about their greatest needs within younger families. They will generally share their expertise, insight and opinion if you ask at a convenient time.
People are proud of their city. Ask them to inform a foreigner as to the strengths of their city. Ask them why they have stayed so many years. Ask them what you should know about the city. What changes have they observed in the past couple of decades.
Processing lots of information will be necessary. So here are a few tips: Use multiple choice answers, not essays. Ask about the felt needs. Get a survey that will take around 30 seconds to complete. If you need further information, do a second survey. Go to a public place, where lots of foot traffic will generate a ton of answers. You might want to consider a database to process those answers. If you are in a western society that is internet literate, you might even consider an electronic survey.
In the next issue I will provide some questions to consider for a community survey.