This article provides an overview of conceptual considerations underpinning the design of a research project on religious innovation and competition amidst urban social change. The conceptual work developed out of the planning of the research methods, questions and questionnaires, and provides the background on which particular methodological choices and research foci were built. In six sections, the following will be discussed: the tension between a liberation theology commitment and ethnographic description of local congregations’ response to social change; the motivation for a particular understanding of ‘church’ used in identifying communities for the mapping process and focus groups; assumptions on the relation between church or theology and society; introduction to the key notions ‘urban fractures’ and ‘vulnerabilities’ used in the study; and our understanding of ‘innovation’.