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Context Guide | Appendix A
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A Sample Core Story
This sample Core Story is based on the sample Context Report found online at, or
Who is out there?
The portion of our community studied in the Context Report was a three-mile radius of our church’s location. This area of Emeryville currently has 342,885 persons living here which is a 12.7% increase since 1990. Our area is expected to continue growing by 6.4%, which is slightly more than the U.S. projected growth. Our community is highly diverse in both racial/ethnic composition and in lifestyle. 25% of the area is Anglo with the largest racial ethnic group being Hispanic/Latino. This population is expected to continue growing and may provide a major mission opportunity as we seek to expand our membership and provide new programming. The largest lifestyle (19.8%) is described as “Educated New Starters”. These adults are extremely well educated but receive an income only slightly above the U.S. average, have lower faith involvement than the national average and are prone to financially support institutions other than the church. They are most interested in cultural programs, theological discussion groups, programs for sports and camping, marriage enrichment and daycare services. In contrast, the largest age group present is those between the ages of 23-43 who make up 33.1% of our population. The overall level of education is, however, somewhat low with only 69.3% of adults having a high school education compared to the national average of 80.4%. The families present are described as extremely non-traditional with a low percentage (compared to the national average) of married people and two-parent families.
The stress and risk level for families surrounding our church is very high. Survey results indicate that the major area of concern for them is community problems such as gangs, affordable housing, racial prejudice, crime and safety. Children and youth are particularly vulnerable because of the level of poverty, lack of education and single parent homes. The basic necessities of life are often at the top of their priority list. This might suggest that we re-evaluate our outreach program and redirect some of our efforts toward community services. Continuing to host AA and perhaps considering expanding our day care program to include an infant day care might be helpful.
The area around us doesn’t seem very interested in traditional church worship services. 47 % of people in our study area are not involved in any faith community. Interest in traditional Christian denominations is very low, compared to the U.S. average. Contemporary and more casual worship would likely attract those interested in affiliating with an established congregation. The average household income is around $50,000 a year (remember this is averaged between the Educated New Starters and those with much less education, representing the majority of the community) and the likely giving to religious or charitable organizations is projected as very low.

Who are We?

We are a smaller membership congregation (115) projected to grow smaller over the next five years. We have lost 41 members since 1990. We are 94.4% Anglo with a low level of lifestyle diversity. In other words, we look and act a lot alike! The generation represented in our church most above national average (13%) are the Silents (age 62-79) and the Builders (80 years and up ) and many of our members are living off fixed incomes ($25,000 or less). There are a below the U.S. average of married persons and two-parent families in our church but that may be due to our age and presence of many widows/widowers. We are above the U.S. average of high school graduates (91.7%) and 19.4 % of our adults over the age of 25 have college degrees.
Our congregation is most concerned about spiritual and personal things, although social injustice is also on our list. The stress and risk level for our church is considered somewhat high but that may be due to the lower incomes and concerns about health, etc.
Our faith involvement and commitment to our denomination is extremely high. We love traditional worship and typical church programs such as adult education. Our average income is $36,780. Our giving potential to church and charitable organizations is considered about average compared to the remainder of the U.S because 58% of our households contribute more than $500 to churches or religious organizations.. Interestingly enough, 27% of our congregation’s households are below the poverty level of $15,000. Based on the assumption that as people become older and more diverse they become more resistant to change, our congregation’s potential to change is considered about average – good news!
Significant Comparisons
We have mentioned some of the comparisons between who we are and who our community is in the previous paragraphs. Here we want to point to some of the major differences and some of the more important similarities.
Those of us already in the church have an extremely high rate of “faith receptivity”. That means that we’re interested in religion, the spiritual life and a journey of faith. Those in our community (remember we had a three mile radius survey) have extremely low faith receptivity. This may present some challenges for evangelism and church growth. This may be complicated by the fact that we prefer a very traditional church and our neighbors are looking for something very contemporary.
As older adults we’re not as interested in recreation and leisure activity as we are spiritual development. Those living immediately around us are looking for church programs that provide time for fun and fellowship. Maybe we need to resurrect the church baseball team!
We have known for a long time that we do not reflect the diversity in our community. The Context report reflects this. We must find ways of reaching out to folks who aren’t like us.
The report also pointed out places where we were more alike than different. The most important ones were our family structures and our stress levels. Our congregation is described as very non-traditional because of the number of single-family units (we discussed this earlier in our Core Story). Our neighbors are described as extremely non-traditional. Based on what we know about our area, we suspect there are a high percentage of single parent families and non-married couples sharing homes together plus a significant number of single young adults. We older people deal daily with stress conditions described as “somewhat high” but our neighbors are living with stress that’s “very high”.
When asked about life’s satisfactions, our members felt best about the relationship we have with our children. 95% of us feel good about our relationship with God and most of us (92%) feel very satisfied with our church. Well over the majority of us feel some degree of satisfaction with our jobs, the quality of life in our community, our health and family life. The only major areas of dissatisfaction were in family relationships of those having experienced divorce.
Where are we distressed? This important question revealed some interesting facts about our congregation and the community. We are all concerned about neighborhood crime and safety. The community is somewhat concerned about food, clothing and shelter which are areas our congregation may want to explore for further ministry. We share concerns about long-term security for our families, jobs, and our personal health. Relationship issues – fulfilling marriage, concerns about divorce, parenting skills, prejudice and aging parents are of mutual interest. The community is slightly more concerned about childcare, good schools and problems with children and teens.
About our Church Programs
The Congregational Survey asked us to rate the effectiveness of our church’s programs. The ones we rated the highest are Sunday worship, our choir, the Kerygma Program and Bible Study. We feel less positive about our children’s programs, picnics and outings, adult church school and the lowest ratings were on the 12-step groups (maybe we don’t understand the importance of this? or maybe responders weren’t aware of this program!), Sunday School and our attempts at drama and theater.
The Context Report also presented us with our community’s preferences in church programming compared to what our congregation offers. Cultural programs such as our musical concerts and little theater productions score high with the community (even though we scored them less positively in our own evaluation). Perhaps more importantly are the areas where we either disagree on the importance of a program or where the community wants a program and we don’t offer it.
Both our congregation and the community viewed spiritual retreats as desirable yet we don’t offer them. Perhaps this is something worth further exploration. Likewise, adult discussion groups appear to be of interest to both groups but are not part of our current program. Although our congregation does not sponsor the AA group which meets in our sanctuary and many do not like our hosting the group, it is considered very important by the community. Our church council will keep this in mind when reviewing our policy on outside groups using the church facility. Areas for potential new programs, identified as important by both our congregation and the community, are retirement programs and sporting opportunities. Although the congregation did not express great interest, the community indicated a need for programs for the care of the terminally ill and day care services for children.
NOTE: This sample Core Story has two endings. The first is an example of an ending when the Story is shared at the beginning of a planning process. The second is an example of when the Core Story is shared with action steps. Congregational polity will determine whether a vote is required on such steps or whether they are simply being reported to the congregation by the local governance board.
Our Future Story (Ending One)
Our future story is tied to our Core Story, who we are and what we have to offer the world in Christ’s name. The insights from the Context Report are both affirming and challenging. We like who we are and feel good about our church. We do not reflect the community around us and we’re declining in both age and membership. We do, however, have a sense of social justice and many of the needs expressed by our community are consistent with our values even if we aren’t currently offering those programs or even seeing them as important. We have a rich history of stepping up to the plate when we learn of a real need. Your church council believes that God isn’t finished with us yet. How can we build on what we do well and think about what we might be called to do that we’ve not even thought of? These are the questions before us. Your council sees this as a “wake up” call. We are called to wake up to the ministry needs around us, to learn more about why some of our programs aren’t satisfying, wake up to God’s new day in the life of this congregation. We can’t do everything but we can do some things. The church council has dedicated the next six months to answering these questions. They will be participating in a planning retreat the first weekend in September led by a staff person from our denominational office. Please be in prayer for them as they begin writing the next chapter in our Core Story.
The Next Chapter (Ending Two)
After much study, prayer and conversation the church council brings the following report to the congregation.
1) After exploring the day care opportunities in the community we’ve discovered that there is a glaring lack of quality care for infants under the age of one year. The church council recommends that the congregation authorize them to explore the possibility of offering a reasonabe cost alternative to home day care for children under the age of one year including:
The cost of refitting the two largest rooms in the elementary wing
of the educational building to meet state code for infant day care
Insurance and other liability for such a venture
Necessary licensing for such a venture
Projected cost of staff for a day care program not to exceed
twelve infants
Denominational, state or federal funding for low-income assistance
NOTE: We may be able to employ some of our own members to work in this program, thus assisting our own members financially.
2) That a new covenant be developed between the AA program currently hosted by our congregation and the church council that addresses some of the shared space issues and allows the church to promote the program as jointly sponsored.
3) That a special task force be formed to explore ways that we might extend hospitality to our growing Hispanic neighbors including worship, social services and programming. This task force will report to the council and congregation no later than June 30.
4) That we grant our pastor an extra two weeks for study leave in the coming year (a total of one month) for the purpose of learning more about contemporary worship, effective evangelism programs targeting younger adults and new trends in discipleship and spiritual formation.