Demographics: Valuable Groundwork

Are demographics deemed necessary? A study of a community’s demographics can be a valuable tool in the process of beginning a Spanish ministry in a local church.  With just a few dedicated days of effort one can determine vast information about the surrounding Hispanic community which can prove to be vital for several reasons:  First, the demographics will decide what method of Spanish outreach will work best in a specific community.  Also, the information gained will play a major roll in “selling” the new Spanish ministry to the congregation.  Finally, the Latino contacts made in the process of the study will prove to be vital when implementing the ministry.  

If you are like me, the thought of doing a thorough demographic survey is overwhelming at best and can become drudgery at worst. The goal of this article is to give you a simple and proven process for carrying out an adequate study of the Hispanics in your community. Following this process can be the first step to an eternity of dividends.

Determining the Target Data
Before proceeding with the survey take some time to ask yourself several questions as to the type of information you are looking for. The answer to these questions is called the target data. When considering a Spanish ministry, consider the following questions to help determine the target data:
What percentage of the population is Hispanic?
Who are the primary employers of the Hispanics in this community?
What churches in the area have Hispanic ministries?
What neighborhoods are predominately Hispanic?
Where do the local Hispanics play soccer?
Who are the Hispanic community leaders?
Is the local Hispanic population mainly from Mexico, Central America or South America?
How long has the Hispanic community been in the area?
Is the Hispanic population settled or are they migrant workers?
Are the Hispanics mainly first, second or third generation immigrants?
What community sponsored events are targeted toward Hispanics?
What businesses do the Hispanics predominately frequent? 
Gathering Data
After identifying the target data, the next step is to begin the tedious process of data gathering. Below is an outline of the steps that I take and find effective.
I.  Web Research
A. – Census Scope is the best spot for charts, graphs, and lists for virtually any demographic search customized by state, county or metro area. The site will rapidly filter your search to tailor very specific information such as population by language, migration, and even nativity or citizenship status.
B. – Do not be fooled by the name. Any useful information this site can provide does cost.  The free tools use data from the 2000 census only which is the same information found on Beginning at $50, however, the site can provide you with useful demographics gathered from 2007 estimates and 2010 projections.
C. – Of course!  No demographic study can be complete without hours of time on the industry standard search engine. One can find rare and valuable information by searching for the town name with the words “Hispanic,” “Latino,” or “Spanish.”
II.  Public Offices
A.  School District – My first stop after doing the web research is to visit the city or county school district offices.  I never know who I need to talk to but chances are that a secretary will.  When I walk into the office I approach the first person I see and say, “I am with ______ church and we are doing some demographic work on the local Hispanic population with the purpose of considering a ministry. Who would be a good person I could speak with about Hispanics?”  I keep asking this question of each person I am directed to until I am sitting down with a bilingual administrator who is a key contact.  Sometimes they will give me printouts and charts as to how many Hispanics are in each school, grade, and even classroom!  Being relational and presenting oneself trustworthy is the key to finding the right contact.
B. Town Hall – Using the same question as at the school district, I approach the receptionist in the city government building.  My goal is to have the opportunity to sit down with the city planner who can give me maps pinpointing housing projects.  Before I leave the building, I make it a priority to have spoken with or made an appointment with other officers such as the city manager or even the mayor. You never know when you will encounter a believer who will open up new doors of opportunity. Another approach is to first visit the city website and find the names of the city leaders that sound Hispanic. This way you can show up at the town hall and ask for these people by name.
C. Chamber of Commerce – The next recommended stop is to the Chamber of Commerce. They always are able to provide me with a community calendar that I scrutinize for community events related to Hispanics.  For example, Des Moines, Iowa has an annual Latino Festival. Lorain, Ohio has a huge lakeside International Festival that is the city’s most popular event. The workers at the chamber may also be able to relate what businesses in town predominately hire Hispanics and direct you to bilingual business leaders.
D. Public Library – At the library I am looking mainly for community announcements. If there is a community sponsored event such as an ESL class it will more than likely be posted at the library. Also, the library can prove to be a great future resource in beginning your own ESL class as they often offer the use of meeting rooms for free or a nominal fee.  
III. Community Survey
The final and most exciting step is to take the information gathered thus far and to hit the streets. The purpose is to drive into neighborhoods which you have determined to be predominately Hispanic. I like to target a few streets  or apartment buildings and knock on some doors with a survey. I recommend that this survey introduces your church and that it asks just a few non-threatening questions about religion and possible interest in a Bible study. This survey can be written in Spanish so that the one knocking on doors will not need to speak the language.
Synthesizing and Applying the Data
A few days into the demographic process you will likely have a pretty good idea as to the what, when, and where of a potential Hispanic ministry.  For example, if the Hispanic community is composed of mainly migrant workers, then a new ministry will be more of an outreach without much establishment.  If the study discovers several Hispanic charismatic churches already in the community, then this shows that the population is in place and in great need of a Spanish church that is doctrinally sound.  
Filter the knowledge you gained and compile it in a presentable form such as a research paper or a power point presentation.  Consider presenting the raw data to the church leaders or congregation without giving any of your own personal thoughts or conclusions.  Instead, simply present the information and ask that people join you in prayer for God’s leading.  I have found that it is easy for those doing the demographics to become burdened and excited about a potential ministry without the entire church getting on board.  How beneficial to do the grunt work yet lead others to think that a new Spanish ministry is their own idea!
Considering the demographics of a community is not the only means to determine whether or not to have a Spanish ministry or of what type.  God can certainly burden and work in ways that defy the demographics and all logic! A demographic survey, however, can lay the valuable groundwork to reach precious souls with the gospel.