Getting to Know Your Neighbors: how a local church can map its community

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If you were paying attention last week, I laid out a roadmap for local churches to engage international people groups in their area. Across the country, churches are seeing the need to do this work, but the question I get asked the most is, “How do we find them?”

It appears to be the overwhelming misconception that it takes someone with a degree in anthropology or a background in ethnographic research to map out a city’s people group populations. Many local church leaders and lay people feel completely unqualified to do the work of cross-cultural ministry. Perhaps this attitude stems from a “professional missionary” culture in our churches. Whatever the case, I assure you this far from true.

With that said, I humbly submit a different way. Instead of creating systems that require professionalized ministry, we must rely on methods that allow anyone with a basic understanding of the task to be practitioners in the mission.

Concerning such a method, this should get you started:

Narrative Mapping:

If our task begins with finding international communities, then our first step is narrative mapping. Unlike scouring census data and and using some kind of algorithm to extrapolate a population, narrative mapping is simply inserting yourself into the story. Every place has a story. It has a history, a geography, and people who live there. Good ministry can only occur if you become part of that story. Furthermore, narrative mapping, allows you to engage with people in such a way that you gain a picture of the community. It is walking into new places and asking the right questions.

Narrative mapping, is in many ways, being a good listener; however, it is listening for the right things. As concerns international people groups, it is important that we gain a sense of how and where they interact. Which leads me to two terms I want you to commit to memory: points of interest and points of engagement. When narrative mapping for international people groups, we look for points of interest, so that we can eventually discern points of engagement.

Points of Interest:

A point of interest is any establishment (restaurant, food market, fabric store, hair braiding salon) that can be positively connected to a particular international people. These points serve as gateways into any people group community. This is where you will first identify a people group.

Perhaps it is that Afghan kabob house off Main Street, or it is the international food market across town. Finding and frequenting these places become the foundation of any people group mapping for a local church. It is here that you will meet internationals and ask the right questions. Find out where people are from, how long they have lived in the area, if there are many people from their country that also live in the area.

Keep track of points of interest and keep looking for them. Each one provides a new inroad into a community, and as you keep a list, you will begin to find that these points of interest will lead you to a point of engagement.

Points of Engagement:

Like a point of interest, a point of engagement is a place where a local church can interact with a people group, but it takes the interaction one step further. Points of engagement are places where regular gospel proclamation can lead to church planting. These are apartment complexes and neighborhoods where a high concentration of people from a particular group live. Bible studies can be started in points of engagement, and hopefully churches can be formed. While you may meet your Afghan friend in his kabob house, you will most likely not have the ability to regularly share the gospel or lead a Bible study with his friends during his business hours. Instead, use the points of interest as ways to find communities of people, so that you can engage them there.

Effective narrative mapping seeks out points of interest where interaction leads to points of engagement. Go ahead and give it a try. Look for a point of interest in your community and see where it leads. Find that random international restaurant in your community and begin to ask the right questions. Seek out that store in town where West Africans by their unique spices and the Indian population goes to find their curry. Before you know it, you will have some new friends.

Have questions? If so, leave a comment and let’s start a conversation.



The Peoples Next Door is an ongoing research project in conjunction with the Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern. It is an endeavor to map out the people group populations of North America’s major urban centers and create local church driven engagement strategies that will lead to church plants. For more information on the Peoples Next Door project or mapping and engaging people groups, please contact me at The above content is copyrighted (Copyright © 2013 by C. Keelan Cook) and is used with permission. Permission is given to freely use this material in it’s original form for the purpose of training and equipping in local churches.размещение рекламы в интернетеsiteиндексация сайтапродвижение сайтов по лидам

Keelan Cook Administrator
Senior Church Consultant
Keelan leads the Peoples Next Door project and is a Senior Church Consultant with the Union Baptist Association in Houston, TX. He is working on a PhD in Missiology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In previous years, he spent time as a church planter in West Africa with the IMB and doing ethno-graphic research in Washington, DC with NAMB.
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