A few years back, a newspaper article described a Nebraska couple who threw a dart at a map to decide where to vacation next. While that may be an interesting concept for travel adventures, it may not be the best technique for deciding where to plant a new congregation — or where to open a satellite campus for your seminary.
For serious decision making, you need reliable and appropriate information. Enter the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA).
Since 1997, the ARDA has been gathering statistics, research, and other information from the foremost religion scholars and research centers around the world and providing that information online.
The best part: no darts required. The website, www.thearda.com, is free to everyone, courtesy of funding from Lilly Endowment Inc., the John Templeton Foundation, Chapman University, and The Pennsylvania State University, where the ARDA is housed.
For example: Say you’re a leader at a denominational school, and enrollment has been flat over the last few years. You’re considering a partnership with a local college of your own denomination, consolidating with a seminary in another state, or maybe closing your doors. How do you get the data you need to make such an important decision?
The ARDA may be one place. With a few clicks of the mouse, you can locate pockets of your constituents, identify populations to serve more effectively, and determine the religious makeup of a particular geographic region. You also can check out whether a denomination with which you are considering a partnership is growing or declining in a specific geographic region.
Using all this data, the ARDA has developed features for educators, journalists, religious congregations, and researchers. You can access the regular “Faith Communities Today” and “U.S. Congregational Life” surveys, along with various “National Studies of Youth and Religion.”
Interested? Follow along below and begin the journey of discovering more about your community. Here we are highlighting the Community Profile Builder, which allows users to compile data on a selected area. Within seconds, users can explore social and economic data on that region.
Step 1 Opening your browser, go to thearda.com/DemographicMap. Enter any ZIP Code, city and state, or complete address in the box. Then, click Go!
Step 2 The map shows all of the religious congregations serving in the chosen area. In the right-most column, enter a desired radius. This tells the Profile Builder from which area to gather data. It collects data from every census block group in the United States that the radius touches.
Step 3 Click on the map to set the center point for the radius.
Step 4 Click the Profile button. You now have your ARDA Community Profile.
Step 5 The top tabs allow you to explore a wealth of data for your chosen area, including Religion, Housing, Income, Gender/Age, Education, Family, and Race/Ethnicity.
For example, under the Religion tab you can find the percent change from 2000 to 2010 for every religious group in this area.
Step 6 Under the “Income” tab, scroll down to see how many residents in this area are at each income level — helpful information for planning a fundraising or outreach event. Under the “Education” tab, you can learn how many residents in the area have bachelor’s or master’s degrees, and how many have high school diplomas — useful if you’re thinking of opening an extension site.
In fact, this free resource can help you find the answers to a number of strategic questions about your own location or other places of interest. It can be especially useful in determining where to invest resources. For example, “Should we make a fundraising visit to Raleigh or Greensboro? How many high-income people live in each of these metro areas?” Or, “Would it be better to host a recruiting event in Toledo, Cincinnati, or Akron? How many churches of our denomination are within a 100-mile radius of each spot, and how many college graduates are within each radius?”
If you have questions about the information you’ve discovered, send your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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