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Church Planting Tutorial: 11. Demographics

Looking to understand the people you are trying to reach?  We suggest the following basic approach:

  1. Identify General Areas of Interest:  If you already know the meeting location for your Sunday services, make note of the address (street address or intersection).  If not, identify addresses/intersections for potential meeting locations.  In most city/metropolitan areas, your target area will typically be within a 5 mile radius of a specific meeting location.  In rural areas, the radius can be significantly larger.
  2. Educate Yourself on Census Data:  Census data does not have to be complicated.  The US Census Bureau has a wealth of information explaining the essential basics of census data.
  3. Identify Variables of Interest:  Demographic data is available for hundreds of different variables of interest (e.g. age, income, housing prices, race, etc.).  The amount of data available will overwhelm most people.  Choose five of the most important variables that interest you and find the demographic data for these variables.  You can always expand your list later.  Most of the sites below provide a list of the different variables available.
  4. Obtain Free Demographic Data/Reports:  A number of organizations offer free demographic data.  In many cases the free data might be based on older data even though the Census Bureau is currently using the 2010 census.  [bctt tweet=”I got my FREE demographic report today! Thanks P4P!! #churchplanting”] Look for data based on the 2010 or even the 2015 updated to the census.
    • The level of detail in the demographic reports varies widely so look for a site that offers what you are looking for.  We’ve identified a list of sites that offer free demographic information (see the list below).
    • Most demographic data is provided in “raw” form leaving you with the responsibility to interpret results.  Often, the sites that charge a small fee for data will provide the information in a more readable form with some assessment/interpretation of the data provided (e.g. Percept).
    • The best place to start is the US Census Bureau or Church Marketing Solutions.   The Census Bureau site will allow you to interactively get demographic data and maps for areas you specify.  Church Marketing Solutions can also provide you free data and maps for areas you specify.  If you would like a customized report, use our form here.
  5. Demographic Mapping:  Demographic information is easier to interpret when it is mapped.  Typically, data is mapped in different colors with each color representing a different range of values for the data.  For example, dark green may represent average age of 35-40 while lighter shades of green represent different average age ranges.
    • Maps allow you to see the data in specific geographic locations (down to small census tract areas) and to easily compare how the data in one area compares to another.
    • Many of the companies that offer free demographic data also provide some mapping support.  Most paid demographic services offer mapping.
    • Again, the US Census Bureau site is the best place to start with mapping.  Click here to see the Census Bureau’s site for community fact finding.
  6. Interpreting the Data:  After collecting the data and  maps, its time to figure out what it means.  You should consider purchasing a report like the ones provided by Percept.  They offer a relatively low cost solution that will tell you what the data in your area means.  This product is called a Ministry Area Profile.
  7. Carrier Route Mapping:  Carrier route mapping is done to determine how many active households and businesses exist within individual mail carrier routes.  Carrier routes become important for direct mail marketing because you will want to “saturate” an entire carrier route to obtain the lowest possible postage rates.  Carrier route maps are typically done by mail shops (or other paid services) and are not available to the general public online.  Organizations like the Church Marketing Solutions offer free route mapping for customers doing direct mail with them.

Milestone: Understand the People You Will Reach

Demographic Sites Worth Checking Out: