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What we see around us is often very revealing. Groups come together in specific places, and those places shape who they are and give expression to their identity. There are several ways to approach an exploration of the spaces a religious group occupies, but they are all aimed at opening your eyes to the social realities and meanings you might miss without exploring the nooks and crannies at ground level.

Walking the Neighborhood

  • The Basics

    This exercise assumes that you have a regular meeting place (even if it is rented or temporary). Organize a few folks to take this walk together, and start from your meeting place. Walk as far as is comfortable and cover the side streets, as well as the main thoroughfares. Take notes, chat along the way about what you notice, and consider taking pictures, as well (link to visual methods).
  • Questions to Consider

    Are there new buildings or developments? If there is housing, what kind? Are some areas looking particularly good or bad? What about new businesses? Are there a lot of people walking around and enjoying the area, or does it seem deserted? What kinds of people do you see? Is there a police presence? Are there posters about community events? Signs about a neighborhood watch area? Or nothing but concrete and traffic? What does it feel like walking around? Or trying to get around in a wheelchair?
  • Group Reflection

    Once you’ve returned, think about ways your group is and isn’t connected to that community. Think about how your property does and doesn’t fit. Is or isn’t inviting. Or could perhaps be used more effectively. Download the full PDF download for a similar exercise within the four walls of your congregation!

The Tool Kit: Walking Tours Inside and Outside

Our Studying Congregations Tool Kit features easy to use quick guides for better understanding a community of faith. This PDF download is ideal for religious leaders, seminarians and anyone else who wants to better understand how space and place shape a congregation. It explores exercises inside the building and out in the neighborhood.
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The Tool in Action

Gentrification in LA: From the Religion and Civic Culture Blog

Check out the recent post from the Religion and Civic Culture blog on gentrification in the Los Feliz neighborhood of LA: Last week I took a walk on the gentrifying edge of Los Feliz with the pastor of a local church that mainly ministers to the down-and-out. We talked about the urban landscape around us as we passed through city blocks in the midst of a transition–new people are moving in, others are moving out. We stopped in front of a busy restaurant and watched well-dressed, well-heeled people enjoying lunch on an outdoor patio....
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