How to Exegete Your Community

Often when I ask another pastor who his church is trying to reach, he gives me a very spiritual answer—lost people. It sounds good, but it usually means the pastor has a very fuzzy view of his own community.

When I was in seminary, I was taught I had to understand the culture of the New Testament before I could understand the message of the New Testament. If I understood the culture that the New Testament was set against, I could extract the timeless truth from the text. Every biblical preacher does that when he preaches a sermon.

But I was never taught to exegete the community where I serve. That’s what targeting is. I should know the geography, customs, culture and religious background of my community as much as I do about the biblical times.

You can’t faithfully communicate God’s Word until you exegete your text and your community.

So what about your community should you know? I’d start with these four areas.

  • Its geography. Simply define where the people you want to reach live. Get a map of your city or area and mark where your church is located on that map. Estimate a 15 to 20 minute drive (reasonable driving distance may be a bit different in your community) in each direction from your church and mark those as borders of your primary ministry area. This is your “evangelistic fishing pond.” You may have people drive a couple of hours to get to your church. But most of the people who’ll attend your church will live nearby. By the way, your “fishing pond” will likely expand as your church grows.
  • Its demography. You need to know who lives in the area you’re targeting. Not all demographics will be helpful. I’d focus on a breakdown of these stats: age, marital status, income and occupation. Other stats are interesting but won’t make a difference in what you do in your church. Don’t overdue demographic research.
  • Its culture. No missionary in foreign lands would try to evangelize without understanding the culture. You shouldn’t either. You can’t learn it from studying census data either. Looking for the values, interests, hurts and fears of people means you have to talk to people in your community!
  • Its spirituality. Try to determine what the people in your community understand about the Gospel. Other pastors are often the best source for this. When I started Saddleback, I wrote a letter to all of the evangelical pastors in the Saddleback Valley and asked them some basic information about the spiritual background of the community. I got some great insights from that!

Read more from Rick here.

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Rick Warren

Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

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Recent Comments
I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright
"While I understand the intent behind this phrase" Expound please. What do you understand to be the intent behind that phrase?
— Ken

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