I am curious to know if any of you have done the work of exegeting culture, especially in regards to church planting.  If you have, I would like to know what questions you asked and what methods you implemented in the process. I know that good exegesis requires current and accurate demographic and ethnographic research as well as field surveying, and I am hoping learn more about how to gather, interpret, and come away with helpful implications for strategy and design for the indigenization of the plant.

Here’s some stuff I am currently working on regarding a new church plant:

Demographic Research

This is a graph of some demographics I pulled on the area which I found quite telling:

While there has been exponential growth in population, the ethnic groups have grown at an even faster rate.  Given their education and work force, the population is comprised of blue-collar workers who commute on average 35-40 minutes to their jobs (which in turn affect the usability of work environment for target purposes).  The commute is mostly due to housing options and cost-of-living (affordability).

The second chart deals with the number of unchurched in the area:

What I did was gather the total attendance of all Southern Baptist churches according to the 2007 Annual Church Profile, and the number came to just under 1,800 people.  Then, having gathered information from other denominations, I came up with a close proximate number of 2,900 people in a population of over 67,000 residents.  Granted, there are residents who may attend church outside the city (as some of our members do), but I can safely say that 60,000+ residents are unchurched–9 out of 10.  And this in the Bible belt of the South.  There are other charts and graphs, but I will spare you all the details.

Field Survey

I am currently working on learning the culture and helping the core group better understand and apply their knowledge to the mission at hand. While it is tempting to rely solely on hard statistics, such information needs to be validated and/or challenged.  Fortunately within our core group, there are families who have lived in this area since the early 1900’s and know the culture very well.  Yet, I am hoping to dig deeper, looking for the following information from the culture:

* Determine worldviews and religious beliefs
* Discover community and culture centers
* Discern idols of the city and idols of the heart
* Draw from customs, traditions, and other socially shared ideas
* Delineate between the biggest changes, challenges, and needs of community

These aspects are important for the purposes of being conversant with the culture, confronting its idols, communicating the gospel, and connecting with others with the love and compassion of Christ.  Having laid out the context, one can connect the text with the context with a philosophy of mission and design of ministry that is unashamedly biblical and unrelentingly intentional.

Doing good cultural exegesis is something that requires considerable time and attention, listening and learning.  Paul certainly knew that to be true.  He knew the culture of the Jews and the Greeks, the way of life for those under the law and those without the law.  He was able to connect with the religious folks in the synagogue and the secular folks in the marketplace.  The culture did not dictate his message, but neither did he deny its existence.  Within the missional matrix of God, gospel, mission, and church, the culture should be understood and interpreted so that we communicate Christ effectively in our own neighborhood.  And this is where I am finding myself as we aggressively pursue the 90+ percent of unchurched across the street.

One of the questions I am thinking about asking the core group in this area is, “If your job was to be a tour guide around your city and neighborhood, what would you show me, and where would you take me?” If you’ve got any observations or good questions to ask regarding cultural exegesis, please pass them on.