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Context Guide | Study Guide for the Context Report
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Writing Your Core Story
One of the main values of a Context Report is to get a clear picture of your congregation and the community surrounding it at a particular time in its history. But how do you make sense of all this information and turn it into a viable tool for ministry? Most members of the congregation will not spend the amount of time necessary to glean the data that your leadership team is taking. It is also important to have a summary document from which your leadership can work so that the Context Report itself becomes the referral document as needed. PERCEPT suggests you write a “Core Story” which presents your data in a narrative form. There are several ways you can prepare this story.
You can form a small writing group who will put the information in story form.
You can assign one section of the report to each member of your leadership board, asking that person to write a summary paragraph for the assigned section. One person can then edit these paragraphs into one story document.
You can explore the information as a leadership board and then ask one member to write the story.
You can ask a member of the congregation who enjoys information analysis and writing to review the material and write the story.
The key to writing a useable Core Story is simplicity! Not every piece of data has value for your story. Focus on the items, which have the most relevance either numerically or programmatically. Your core story should have the following components—
1 A general summary of the data presented in a simple, straightforward fashion. Save the minor themes for those who love analysis – the average reader wants only the major findings.
2 Analysis that is relevant to your congregation’s future.
3 A summary of the most important learnings and how the information will be used by your church’s decision makers (board, vestry, session, etc.).
You do not have to write the Core Story in the order of the Context Report. In the sample Core Story (Appendix A) the information found in Part 4 (our program ratings) and Part 5 (What do People Want from a Church?) were discussed following the findings in Part 6 and 7 because the writer felt the Core Story flow was more effective that way. What is most important is that you cover all the major insights of the Context Report in an order that makes sense to you.
Percept suggests that you make the Core Story widely available to the members of your congregation – after all, they participated in the process through the Congregational Survey and will be eager to discover what was learned. If your Core Story will lead to a further planning process you can also report that and ask the congregation’s prayer support during this time. You do not need to save the Core Story until an elaborate plan has developed. Sharing the story early builds enthusiasm for the next step and often elicits good ideas from your membership about how the information might be used.
An example of a Core Story, based on the Sample Context Report available on and can be found in Appendix A.
Ways to Use the Core Story and Context Report
No demographic study will be helpful if the information isn’t used! Just knowing about your congregation and your community is not enough. The important pay-off for ministry is in how this knowledge can assist your congregation in both addressing its own internal needs and developing a mission and outreach strategy. Percept recommends that you distribute the Core Story to all members of the congregation. This can be done through making copies available in the church office, distributing them after Sunday worship, printing the story in the church newsletter, or mailing a copy to every member home.
The following appendices, all based on your congregation’s core story, are provided as part of this guide to assist you in further planning.
A Sample Core Story — Appendix A
Presenting the Core Story at a Congregational Event – Appendix B
Using the Core Story to Write a Mission/Vision Statement – Appendix C
Three Session Bible Study for Youth/Adults – Appendix D
Using the Context Report When Calling a New Pastor – Appendix E
Design for A One-Day Retreat to Develop a Three-Year Ministry Plan –
Appendix F
It is Percept’s desire that your Context Report be a key component in your ministry assessment and planning for the next several years. If your judicatory is a Vista Client you can get periodic brief updates on your congregation’s demographics at no cost through the FirstView resource on There are other useful resources found there as well. Percept recommends that a full Context Study be done every 4-6 years. Thank you for using Percept as your information provider. May God bless your ministry!