Starting to exegete the neighborhood

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October 12, 2010 by Dwight Bernier

Yesterday morning, Nehemiah (my son) and I went for a two-hour walk through three census districts where we are looking to start our first missional community. It is the first step of many in understanding our neighborhood. I learned how to do this through working as an intern with Christian Direction during the summer of 2008. My project was to do an exegesis on the borough of Verdun and then produce a report on our findings for the churches, the social service agencies, the borough officials, the people living there, and anyone else that might want to understand the borough of Verdun better. Glenn Smith, a missiologist and director of Christian Direction, has written a fabulous article called “How to Exegete a Neighborhood” which has some very helpful steps in completing this at times daunting task. But if we are committed to being missionaries to the place God has called us, then we must always be about the work of seeing what is going on in our areas, what God is doing here that we can partner with him on, what the people are like, etc.

I thought that I would share the steps of this process in case some of you wanted to look more in depth at where God has placed you or called you to minister.


– Get a map (preferably a census map) and plot out the area you want to look at. (It is easier to do research based on census districts rather than in just general areas.)

– Grab a journal or moleskine to write down what you see as you are systematically walking and praying your way through the area.

– Write down the date and time that you are walking through so that you can see the different rhythms of life taking place in the area.

– Note the type of housing (single family, row housing, high rise, seniors, multi-family, low rise, condo, social housing, etc.)

– Note the location of public housing units (if possible).

– What is the terrain like? What are the streetscapes/highways/corridors in the area? Why do people use those major roads?

– What are the government instutions, social service agencies, community centers or charities in the area and where are they located? Are they easy for people to find?

– What churches, religious centers or religious service centers are in the area?

– What are the local hangouts, cafes and stores in the neighborhood?

– What public transportation is available?

– What are the health facilities?

– What schools are in the area?

– What do the people on the street look like? What are they doing at that time of day? Did you get to talk to any of them (the main part of this step is to focus on what is in the neighborhood… so there is plenty of time later to get into good conversations)

– What other characteristics did you notice about the area (dichotomy of wealth and poverty, race, class, graffiti, strip clubs, etc?)

The goal is for you to better understand the visible structure of what is going on around you and the next steps will help you unpack a lot more… I will keep walking through this process through the blog.

We are pumped to be in this area and see what God has been and is doing here.


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