by Major Doug Burr
To understand what is going on in any community, one must begin a procedure of looking critically at that community. Too often the church comes into a neighbourhood deciding what is best for them and then embarking on a project to fix things. This is usually done with very little study or deep understanding of what factors have made the community what it is. We often come to the conclusion that we have all the answers, without even looking for specific problems!
Herein is a process that can be used in any community to understand what is really going on and open our eyes to see the true picture.
A. Study the Present
To some extent, this is what any church or social change group does as it enters a community. However, I believe this is a more important step than just going through the neighbourhood with a survey sheet, developed with a conclusion already in mind or with the purpose of proving your particular ministry is necessary. There is much more to it than that. Here are two things to consider:
Observation entails getting an accurate image of what the community currently is. While many ways are available to observe what is going on in a community, these three important components must be included.
a. Walk Around. This is a good place to start. Get a map, get familiar with it, then spend time (lots of it!) walking around your community. One cannot get to know a community from a distance or even driving through it. We must get our information first-hand and in person. An authenticity comes with actually being there that we cannot glean from any other source. Take notice of anything that catches your attention and take notes.
b. Look for Opposites. Look for things happening that are opposites of Godly characteristics and desires. If Satan is in control, one of the things he does is direct a community (or person, for that matter) away from God’s purpose and desires for that community to the opposite. Often it is obvious, when we are looking for it. For instance, if we find much brokenness and hurt in a community, perhaps God’s design is for it to be a place of healing.
This is based on the concept that God has a redemptive gift(s) for every city. Like spiritual gifts for individuals, redemptive gifts reveal God’s plan and purpose for a city.  Knowing God’s specific design for a city is important in directing our prayers to be in line with God’s will and eventually accomplishing his purposes.
c. Prayer-walk. While some praying can be done when walking around, I recommend prayer-walking be done as a separate step. Prayer-walking is defined as "praying on site, with insight"  and we need to have good information about the area before we begin to pray seriously. Prayer-walking allows God to speak to us about specifics relating to places or people and can even develop into a vital evangelistic effort.
Still, these things alone are not enough to fully learn what is going on in a community. Once we familiarize ourselves with the physical area, we then need to dig deeper in other ways.
This step is where we put some of our walking experience to work combining it with what we can get from other resources and people.
a. Talk to People. You’re not the only one who has learned something about your community. Talk to others about their insights. Glean from their experience and knowledge. Include people who have any kind of connection with your community. The more varied the people we talk with, the wider the useful information we will gather. One should keep a notebook of contacts and conversations.
b. Listen. While talking with people, really listen to what they have to say. Keep your "ear to the ground" and pick up as much information as possible from as many sources as can be found. We may deem much of what we hear gossip or useless, but we can weed it out later.
c. Read Current Area Papers and Publications. Finally, get your hands on all the community newsletters, social action group publications, political brochures and newspapers available. These are loaded with a wide variety of information that will possibly prove invaluable to your research.
Now that we’ve armed ourselves with all the current information we can possibly find relating to the community, it’s time to begin looking at what has gone on before.
B. Study the History
Since we will probably need to address corporate sin and corporate sin develops in the past, we must look back to discover the things that have happened that caused the current situation of our community. There are at least three ways to do this.
1. Formal, Written History
Go to the library. Look over the selection of books about the history of your community. I am sure there will be many. Perhaps you can find a local historical society that can provide help also. As you read, remember that history is always coloured by the author and his purpose for writing. Therefore you may need to read between the lines. I find it rare that you will find references to instances of social injustice or mistreatment of immigrants. Of course, you will find the large events that made the headlines, but smaller incidents were usually kept quiet. These things will be harder to find and yet they can be the very things that should be addressed.
2. Informal, Oral History
Now we move back to talking with people. Look for people who have been around for a long time. The elderly often have many great stories and are only too willing to share them with anyone! What a great way to incorporate friendly visitation with their need to share the past. Let them know how beneficial their input will be for your project.
Their information will be invaluable. They will remember the things that didn’t get printed in the books and papers. Their stories will often fill the gaps that developed in your historical reading.
3. Revelation by the Holy Spirit
With all your research, you will still not be able to find everything. Quite possibly you will not even be able to find the very things that need addressing the most. The advantage of the Christian, is that you have the resource of the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you to very specific information that you cannot conceivably find anywhere else.
Spend time in prayer alone and in groups asking God to show you what He wants you to know. Always taking the time to listen carefully for His leading. Look for confirmation from others so that you don’t end up chasing your own imaginations.
In one community, we received much special information from the Holy Spirit. In interdenominational prayer groups we placed these findings before the group for discernment before we acted on them. Nevertheless, always wait for God’s timing and leading before stepping out in any action.
C. Spiritual Mapping
You have already begun collecting data and information about what is (and has been) physically happening in your community. This should continue, but on a different front– the spiritual dimension.
What is Spiritual Mapping? George Otis, Jr. defines spiritual mapping this way:
"The discipline of diagnosing the obstacles to revival in a given community. Through fervent prayer and diligent research, practitioners are able to measure the landscape of the spiritual dimension and discern moral gateways between it and the material world." 
Since this just an overview on spiritual mapping, I will keep this section brief. I have listed some reference books in the bibliography that will give further information if and when God sends you in this direction.
1. Discerning What God is Doing
The assumption in spiritual mapping, is that we "go around looking for the evil the devil is doing" in a community. While this is partially true, the first step is to "go around looking for the good God is doing" in a community. All spiritual warfare must begin with God’s design and plan.
Unfortunately, many churches in any given community are woefully unaware of what God is doing outside their own doors and inward-looking self-interests. While God’s work in any particular church is important, it is only a small piece of His work in the greater community. There needs to be a connection to the larger body of Christ in a community. God’s plan is bigger than any single church. His plan always includes His entire body. This problem has grown so large in the church today that it usually develops into a generational sin of the church against the community.
The solution takes the form of united meetings of various kinds. Prayer meetings, praise meetings, worship meetings, dinner meetings– any way to get the larger body of Christ to share in the greater picture. In
these ways, individual churches can stop "navel-gazing" and focus on God’s greater plan. Focusing on the forest instead of the trees makes for a totally different kind of picture.
Connectivity and unity in the church bring about the reality of God’s purpose and plan for a community. Christians begin to truly discern what good God is doing in a community.
But, whether we like it or not, the other half of this process, is in fact:
2. Discerning What Satan is Doing
Spiritual mapping (or spiritual warfare, for that matter) is not about glorifying the devil’s work. Ignoring Satan is usually just what he wants! The Scriptures tell us to be wise and discerning of the enemy’s tactics against us. How can we fight in any battle if we are unaware of what the enemy is doing or planning?
Looking at information already gathered, you can begin putting together the puzzle of the devil’s work in your community. You will find that current situations are direct results of past activities and events. You will also find that Satan works hard to direct the entire area to the very opposite of what God wants. Evil does not just happen. The master of evil has planned and orchestrated much of it. He has lots of patience and is willing to wait long periods (even over generations) to see his desires accomplished.
John Dawson, Healing America’s Wounds, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1994).
Steve Hawthorne and Graham Kendrick, Prayer-walking, (Orlando, FL: Creation House, 1993).
Cindy Jacobs, Possessing the Gates of the Enemy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen Books, 1994).
George Otis, Jr., Informed Intercession, (Ventura, CA: Renew Books, 1999).
C. Peter Wagner, Breaking Strongholds in Your City, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993).
C. Peter Wagner, Engaging the Enemy, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1991).
 For further information on redemptive gifts, read: C. Peter Wagner, Breaking Strongholds in Your City, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993), p. 56.
 Steve Hawthorne and Graham Kendrick, Prayer-walking: Praying on Site with Insight, (Orlando, FL: Creation House, 1993).
 George Otis, Jr., Informed Intercession, (Ventura, CA: Renew Books, 1999), p. 256.