Term Research Projects in Urban Mission

The majority of the grade for most urban mission courses is a term project, which requires you to research a community, ministry, or culture and develop a strategy for launching or improving a contextualized ministry initiative to that group.  The goal is to give you hands-on experience studying a cross-cultural situation and thinking through a holistic plan for ministry. 

The successful completion of this project is the goal to which class lectures and discussions are oriented.  Because you will need to complete interviews, ministry visits, and a substantial report, allocate plenty of time to the project and begin as early as possible.

Continue reading below for tips on how to handle the specific challenges this assignment presents.

Working in a Group

These projects often require students to work in groups of two or three.  Working as a team requires you to be both flexible and assertive, listening with an open mind to the insights of your group members while contributing actively to the group’s progress yourself.  Too often, group work does not go well because one member is dominant and unyielding or because some members fail to contribute. 

By planning purposeful, efficient meetings and holding your co-workers accountable for their progress, you will help your group proceed steadily.  This is especially important when you produce your final report, since you will turn in a single document to represent your collaboration. 

Writing in a group is difficult because group members often have different styles of writing.  If each person contributes a portion to the written document, it is wise, after the group has compiled and reviewed an initial draft together, to elect one person to serve as the editor for your final draft.  Doing so will provide your final product with a unified style

Following Guidelines Carefully

Term projects usually include several distinct sections.  The project for PTM 151 Mission to the City, for example, involves four sections:

  • a social-scientific description of the target community,
  • an analysis of theological questions pertinent to the community,
  • a missiological strategy for reaching the community, and
  • a plan for developing leaders in the community. 

If you are tempted to focus on one or two sections that seem more important or interesting you, remember that each section is equally important to the successful completion of the project.  A thorough and insightful analysis of contextual theological questions, for example, will not compensate for a weak leadership development plan. 

Producing a well-balanced group project is more difficult if each group member works on her or his own section of the project without receiving input, help, and critique from the rest of the group throughout the semester. 

Each person should be aware of what the others are doing and let the others' ideas shape his or her own work. Early in the semester, establish a plan for meeting together, a plan that will ensure your group the consistency and balance produced when each member works in dialogue with the others. 

Formatting and Structure

As a large document that contains discrete sections, urban mission term projects must be constructed differently than regular essays are.  In essays or other term papers, the author develops a single thesis through a cogent progression of thought by use of carefully crafted transition statements. 

Urban mission term projects, however, do not present a single thesis but rather discuss research methods, analyze data, and recommend responses to these findings. 

In terms of structure, the term project looks more like a social science research project than an exegesis or church history paper.  The following components will make your document more readable:

  • clear section headings and sub-headings
  • a table of contents and figures
  • bullet points, tables, and figures where appropriate
  • introductory and summary paragraphs for each major section. 

Handling Data Responsibly

Some urban mission projects require you to engage in light demographic and sociological research.  But unless you are trained as a social scientist or statistical analyst, you may not know how to draw legitimate conclusions from the data you have collected.  Demographic data such as census reports are especially complex and require careful analysis you try to interpret them. 

For example, if you find evidence that a particular community has both a high percentage of children with poor nutrition and a large population of recent immigrants, you might assume that poor nutrition is the result of poverty among the immigrant community. 

However, if your community also contains a substantial number of non-immigrants, the data describing poor nutrition might represent this non-immigrant section of the population.  In this case, your data would not really prove a causal connection between immigrant status and poor nutrition. Following with your initial assumption might lead you to recommend developing a ministry targeted at problems that are not really what you think they are.  Therefore, it is a good idea to consult your professor for help when dealing with complex data. 

Using Tables and Figures Effectively

If you are presenting only a few numbers or statistics, it is usually best to include the information in the form of a sentence: 

From 1990-2003, the number of North Philadelphia high school students who dropped out before graduation rose from 18% to 33% for boys and from 17% to 27% for girls.

However, it is difficult to read a sentence that contains too many numerical values.  If you have more data to present, consider representing the material graphically in a table or figure. 

When presenting material graphically, be sure to include a title that clearly indicates what the graph contains and labels that identify columns or variables.  Compare the following two bar graphs:

Figure 1.  A Poor Example



Figure 2.  A Better Example


Both of these figures represent the same data and would be intelligible to an astute reader if they were properly explained in the report. 

However, Figure 1 omits important details and forces the reader to go searching in the surrounded text to discover where these students live, whether the percentages refer to students dropping out that year or simply to residents who were high school dropouts, and which color corresponds to boys and which to girls. 

Figure 2, on the other hand, clearly communicates this information and does so with a more succinct title.  For useful, easy to understand guidance on presenting graphical data, see chapter 8 of Turabian’s A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 7th Edition. 


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