Missional Strategy #2: Research!

Missional activity often focuses on multiplying disciples and planting churches. So, where should new churches be started? The answer involves listening to the spirit of God, recognizing where God is working, and choosing to join Him. Before starting new churches, research should be focused on both the Harvest Field and the Harvest Force around you.

1. The Harvest Field—includes all those persons and groups who have not yet believed in Jesus Christ and therefore need to be reached with the gospel. They are a mission field. They may include nominal Christians who are not active in their faith and do not currently participate in regular Christ-centered fellowship. Demographic research will help to objectively measure cultural realities. Here are some good areas to look at:

  • Population statistics
  • Ethnicity
  • Language
  • The number of families versus singles
  • The number of owners versus rentals
  • Levels of education
  • Blue collar versus white collar professionals
  • Average income
  • Turnover rates

2. The Harvest Force—includes all those persons and groups who follow Jesus Christ and therefore have the gospel to give to others. They are a positive force in harvest work, as evidenced by the fact that they attend a Christian church on a regular basis. (While church attendance certainly lacks as a definition of effective Christian witness, it best serves our purposes of assessing the number of people in a region who have an understanding of the gospel and who are entrusted with the responsibility to convey that message to others.)Research should certainly focus on understanding the community and culture around you.

An understanding of the particular geography around your church plant is also vital to your planning. Where people live (neighborhoods or villages), where they work, how they meet and relate, where they go to school, physical lines of and barriers to communication (roads, bus routes, rivers, mountains), technological infrastructure or lack there of, as well as social services are all relevant points of information. (Logan and Cole, Beyond Church Planting, p 150)

It has been said, “You can reach people you can relate to.” After completing initial research into the harvest field, it is important to compare the church planter to the community to be reached. A mismatch of the community and the planter can often hinder the effectiveness of starting a new church.

The authors of Beyond Church Planting emphasize ways to interact with the community and relate to the people.

  • Observe the people God is calling you to reach. Try sitting and watching, walking or driving. God will give you discernment and wisdom to know what your style of ministry needs to be, and your strategy will emerge.
  • As you get to know the people God is calling you to reach, listen for attitudes, interests, and needs. These are the clues you need to discover what God is calling you to do.
  • As you observe and listen and interact, you will collect soft data and understanding. When led by the Holy Spirit of God, this information can help you understand what style you need to have in church, so that you can relate appropriately to people, so that they come to know Christ as their Savior and Lord.
  • The apostle Paul changed his dress, his diet, and his forms of communication to be able to reach people (1 Cor 9:19–23).
  • There is no need to market yourself. The ultimate person who modeled relational communication and incarnation was the Lord Jesus Christ. When God became a man and lived among us, he took on Jewish culture and form. He grew up in Galilee and even learned a trade. All of that is a demonstration of “incarnational” ministry.

Good research of the harvest field is essential to relating to people and reaching them with the gospel. Good research of the harvest must precede missional activity. Also see: Missional Strategy #1: Prayer!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Dave DeVries

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Dr. Dave DeVries is a coach, trainer, author and founder of Missional Challenge. He is passionate about coaching and training church planters and missional leaders. With 30+ years of church planting and leadership development experience, Dave brings his passion and encouragement to those he trains and coaches.
2 replies
  1. BoRazz
    BoRazz says:

    I appreciate this post Dave. Studying the context is so important. A bit of push back on the idea of matching the planter with the audience; that reflects a bias toward the homogenous strategy. Much of my work has shifted toward encouraging believers to cross cultures and reach out to those who are ethnically or economically different. Multi ethnic churches are based on the premise that the church should include a mixture of different kinds of people; as you point out, this is harder (but not therefore a reason not to do it).

  2. DaveDV
    DaveDV says:

    Bob, I totally appreciate your reaction to a homogeneous strategy. I too am committed to see multi-ethnic churches planted.

    However, the principle that you are more likely to reach people who are similar to you or relate to you is true for most people. I’ve seen church planters enter communities where they were totally unable to connect with the people who lived in that community. As a result, the church that was being planted never grew disciples.

    Also, I think that their are more factors involved in “matching” a community than ethnicity. One’s education, training, socio-economic background, language, etc. do make a difference in relating to others, and therefore, in a church planter’s ability to communicate the gospel.

    Even saying that, however, I would pray for more church planters with a missionary/missional orientation that would effectively cross cultural-barriers to “incarnate” the gospel and start new churches. If that doesn’t happen, we will never see the transformation of America.

    We can’t just send missionaries overseas. We have to send missionaries across cultures here in America!

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