Congregations Use Data to Target Services

Author: Jake Cowan and Tom Kingsley
Date Posted: August 29, 2011

When the Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis began a strategic planning process in 2005, the task force soon raised questions regarding service opportunities in the larger Indianapolis community. Consultants to the planning process suggested using Social Assets and Vulnerabilities Indicators (SAVI) as a way to discover some answers.

One of the first steps they took was to learn where congregation members lived by using the data upload function of SAVI to plot addresses. This revealed that congregation members lived throughout the Indianapolis region, with the highest concentrations across northern Marion County and southern Hamilton County. The congregation's community, as measured by its members' residences, was metropolitan in its reach. Comparison with earlier membership maps confirmed that the church's historical growth patterns had not changed significantly since the previous planning period. When the membership distribution was downloaded into standard GIS software for further analysis, new patterns emerged as population clusters appeared, providing opportunities for the congregation to consider programs at locations other than the church building. SAVI was helpful by identifying what types of human service and educational programs were present in areas where members lived, thus helping the task force avoid duplicate programming.

The task force also was interested in problems within the neighborhood that immediately surrounded the church. Members valued these mission opportunities and had long seen this type of service as a hallmark of the church. SAVI was helpful here as well. Using the system's rich information, SAVI provided a portrait of the immediate neighborhood that allowed the task force to consider ways it could use congregational resources to address human needs.

Second Presbyterian is only one of a number of local congregations using SAVI in its planning and outreach activities. Eastern Star Church, the city's largest congregation, has used SAVI for several years to identify areas of need that the church could serve. "SAVI has been very helpful to us in grant applications," notes Kelley Gulley, special projects administrator for Eastern Star. SAVI data also has allowed staff to educate the congregation and Board of Directors about the types of juvenile services the church could provide and why. St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Carmel also used SAVI to locate its members residences and then combined this information with other data provided by the Indianapolis Center for Congregations as it developed a strategic plan in 2004.

This story was initially published in Stories: Using Information in Community Building and Local Policy in June 2007.

This story was written by staff at the Urban Institute, drawn from documents and interviews with Sharon Kandris of The Polis Center. The Polis Center is the Indianapolis partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.