A Unifying Vision Creates a Good City

(Second in the series on 30 Actions and Ideas that Create Good Cities)

Earlier this month I attended a breakfast that honored the Resourcefullness Award winners hosted by the accounting and consulting firm, Eide Bailly. Jill Kohler, Development Director for the Interfaith Outreach and Community Partners (IOCP), told the story of Plymouth, Minnesota’s Sleep Out Campaign.

This is one powerful expression of how unifying around what we care about brings a great result. Thousands of people from different churches, faiths, community organizations, businesses, and community members participate in the Plymouth Sleep Out each year to raise money to support holistic family care.

It all started in November, 1996 when local shoe repairman, Bob Fisher (featured in the photo courtesy of IOCP), decided to take up winter camping. The first night he was camping out in his own back yard, he was awakened at 2 a.m. with a clear message, “Take care of the needy people of Wayzata.” Bob said, “I didn’t even know there were needy people in Wayzata.” With this, Bob moved his tent to the front yard and set a goal to raise $7,000.00 to buy holiday meals for 100 families. He commited that he would sleep outside every night until the goal was met.

It didn’t take long; word got out about what Bob was doing and TV stations began giving him coverage. Within 2 weeks, Bob had raised over $10,000. He brought the money to the Interfaith Outreach & Community Partners (IOCP) nonprofit in Plymouth, initially thinking the had done his good deed and would move on.  However, when he met with LaDonna Hoy, IOCP Executive Director, she helped Bob understand that while a hot meal at Thanksgving helps some families, there are families who can’t even receive a hot meal. She then told Bob about a family of four living in a car in the community after the death of the husband and father. It became clear that the complex issues of housing and homelessness represented an even greater need.

For two more years, Bob raised funds by sleeping out in his tent. He would have a little kick off with a bon fire with a few friends and community members followed by a prayer and then his sleep out would begin.

Bob credit’s Jill with the next breakthrough. She suggested to Bob that he invite the local Boy Scouts to join him. They might enjoy buidling fires and camping out. Although he was reluctant at first, Bob invited the Boy Scouts to participate and in 1999 2-300 Boy Scouts joined Bob in raising money by sleeping out. The next year eight church youth groups joined the Sleep Out. Businesses in the community began sponsoring Bob and others in this communitywide sleep out to raise funds and awareness for sustainable housing.

Bob’s initial few years sleeping out to raise funds for the hungry and homeless became a catalyst, Next Bob championed the effort. He engaged a cross-sector network around the belief that together, their suburban community could do something significant to provide sustainable housing for those in need.

The event gained momentum.The focus shifted from a single issue to holistic family care. In 2003 the Sleep Out Campaign raised over $1,000,000.00. This past fall on the 20th Anniversary in 2015, the Sleep Out raised $2.5 million with community members sleeping out in parks, back yards, and in the city’s commercial district.

Each year now, the Sleep Out begins the first Saturday in November with a community block party, a prayer walk and a poverty-simulation exercise. To date, 2,700 families have been kept from becoming homeless in the Wayzata/Plymouth area. Bob said, “It’s amazing that there can be homeless and hungry people in a country as affluent as ours. On any given night in Minnesota, some 9,000 people are homeless. Half of these are under 18 and many are as young as 5 or 6. We can all do something. We each need to discover our god-given gifts and put them into action. Obedience is a lifestyle. If God calls you to do something, go after it and stick with it.”

He went on, “When I was a child in Catholic School, my teacher said one day, ‘The most important concept in life is stick-to-it-iveness.’ Perserverance.”

While there are many individual beliefs and actions that create a successful communitywide initiative like the Sleep Out Campaign, at the core is a central unifying vision to help families in need. The involvement of churches in Plymouth and Wayzata in this initiative is an outward sign of belief in and application of the good news of the gospel in the context of these communities. When people unify around serving families in need they are coming together around what they care about. While this may reflect a transcendent belief such as the golden rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it is not primarily a theological unity that is sought, but a humanitarian one. This is also known as centered set thinking.

Centered set thinking was first introduced through Dr. Paul Hiebert of Fuller Theological Seminary and popularized by Sam Williams and Eric Swanson. It’s at the core of my writing in my book, The Good City. In a nutshell, this concept advocates that Christians go beyond simply partnering around theological beliefs (as people do when becoming members of a church) and join others around those people, values, and things we care about (see diagram below).

Centered set thinking opens the door to all kinds of unlikely partnerships around nearly every issue that matters in cities and communities. As a coach, I work with community groups in cities working on issues of foster care, jobs, sex trafficking, alcohol and chemical abuse, education, hunger, housing, and more. When we partner with others who care about the same issues, it opens the door for myriad conversations that might not otherwise happen. This approach invites people to become engaged in a good cause that will transform lives and create good cities

 

1965 Legislation's Impact Has Transformed America and Its Cities

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Immigration Act also known as the Hart-Celler Act of 1965. The most recent statistics show that 41.3 million immigrants live in the United States. The Migration Policy Institute defines immigrants as “…people residing in the United States who were not U.S. citizens at birth. This population includes naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs), certain legal nonimmigrants (e.g., persons on student or work visas), those admitted under refugee or asylee status, and persons illegally residing in the United States.” They post the following chart on their website.*

The Migration Policy Institute notes that the number of immigrants living in the US has recently reached historically high levels, however the percentage of immigrants to population has just reached the levels that were common prior to the 1921 Emergency Quota Act (The Immigration Restriction Act of 1921).

In 1965, the restrictions of 1921 were lifted when the Hart-Celler Act was passed with strong bi-partisan support with the aim in mind of doing away with racial and ethnic restrictions in the previous immigration law and opening the way for people who possessed needed intellectual and scientific skills to enter our workforce. On October 3, 1965, at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Act into law saying, “This bill we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not restructure the shape of our daily lives or add importantly to either our wealth or power.” President Johnson’s statement could not have been farther off the mark.

Over the past 50 years, the bill has opened the door to much greater cultural diversity in the make-up of our nation and at the same time has made our nation more Christian. In his brilliant 2007 book,The Next Christendom, Phillip Jenkins wrote, “Far from what anyone could have dreamed at the time, the 1965 Immigration Act had vast consequences for American religion, especially Christianity. At least 66 percent of new immigrants are Christian, compared to just 8 percent Muslims.”

Change is difficult for anyone and greater cultural diversity has brought change. When my wife and I go for walks in local parks, we will often see pick-up cricket matches and soccer games while the nearby softball fields wait for organized evening games to start. Our neighborhood is composed of people of European, Asian, Middle Eastern, and African descent.

Most American churches celebrate an old model of missions that aims at reaching the ends of the earth by sending and supporting overseas missionaries. As immigration has grown, America has become more diverse and the world has come to our cities. Many of these new residents are our fellow Christians. What would happen if these same institutions became missional churches with a local focus on the many peoples who have come to our cities? What would happen if American churches rolled out the red carpet to welcome Christians from the many parts of the world who have come to us? What would happen if both immigrants and long time residents worked to more thoughtfully welcome with Christian hospitality those who come from the many unreached people groups as refugees?

As GoodCities is seeking to make an impact, we are being sensitive to the need to better extend hospitality to immigrants. Leaders related to GoodCities are key bridge builders who are doing this work in a number of cities. Those that stand out in my mind are in Dallas through Unite Greater Dallas, Modesto through City Ministry Network, and Minneapolis through Transform Minnesota and Arrive Ministries.

Please share with us what Christians are doing in your city to welcome immigrants and refugees. We’d love to hear your stories. Join with us to hear these kind of stories at City Convene in Cincinnati, Sept 21-22.

City Convene

*(http://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/immigrant-population-over-time?width=1000&height=850&iframe=true accessed 8-24-2015).

David Brooks, Social Conservatives and City Transformation

Last week, David Brooks wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times (June 30, 2015) titled, The Next Culture War. In his column, Brooks advocated for the kind of work that Christian leaders are quietly engaged with in cities all over America.

Brooks’ focus was on the decline in Christianity in the United States, the smaller share of Evangelicals in the U.S. electorate, and the recent Supreme Court decision supporting gay marriage. He took the opportunity to advocate a significant shift for social conservatives to make from the front lines of the current culture wars to offering collaborative service, social and spiritual capital in their cities and communities.

As Americans, Christians are often conflicted when deeply held moral and ethical positions are overridden by elections and/or court decisions. However, being an American and being a Christian represent two very different identities. Recent decisions on public policies should help Christians understand their cultural context and live counter-culturally.

Brooks wrote, “Consider putting aside, in the current climate, the culture war oriented around the sexual revolution.” The culture war makes people, who should be known for profound love and a commitment to equality and justice, appear to be neither loving nor just.

He writes, “Social conservatives could be the people who help reweave the sinews of society. They already subscribe to a faith built on selfless love. They can serve as examples of commmitment. They are equipped with a vocabulary to distinguish right from wrong, what dignifies and what demeans. They already, but in private, tithe to the poor and nurture the lonely.” He could substitute “Evangelical Christians” for his use of the term “social conservatives.” However, it’s good that he does not, because many of us find our place on the political spectrum to be somewhere between conservatives and liberals, who have become so polemic that sensible public policy seems to get lost in the rhetoric.

Here’s where Christian leaders’ work in cities and David Brooks’ viewpoint dovetail. It’s when he writes, “The defining face of social conservativism could be this: Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spritutal poverty reinforce each other.  Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.” I would add, Those are the people who seek the peace and prosperity of their city and offer hope.

When we take an approach that is innovative and collaborative that focuses on “what people care about” in cities and communities, Christians will enter the public square and find they become valued partners. I’ve written a short e-book about how this is already taking place in a number of cities and to offer a method that will give many thousands of people an opportunity to engage in helping every city to become a good city; to move toward city transformation in ways that help repair the fabric of our communities and, as David Brooks writes, “…to serve as messengers of love, dignity, commitment, communion and grace.”

Free eBook: Multiply Volunteers and Resources

The ebook, Multiply Volunteers and Resources, is being offered as a valuable tool to engage leaders throughout your city or community in signiicant work that addresses causal issues, not just the symptoms. Click the button here or in the side bar to download your copy today.

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For Houston's Kids: Beyond Church and Public School Partnerships

Steve Capper (pictured below and featured in a 2:40 minute video below) is a GoodCities Community Leadership Coach and serves as the Executive Director of For Houston’s Kids. He will be a contributing blogger for our blog site. This article introduces the missional thrust of how this unique collaboration between people of faith and people of good will works together for the good of Houston’s children. For Houston’s Kids goes beyond church and public school partnerships by forming unlikely partnerships to accomplish their goals.

In 2004, a healing of many in the Church of Houston who were blind began.  Like the story told in Mark 8, the restoration of sight was both partially immediate and largely progressive. This miracle followed a simple question, a group conversation, and a massive investigation in search of an accurate picture of our city’s condition.

Dave Peterson, then the Senior Pastor of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, had attended a one-day conference featuring a stirring story of one man’s efforts to replace isolation and hopelessness among Baltimore’s inner city youth with caring mentors and a path to a hopeful future.  On the way home, Dave found himself pondering a suddenly appearing thought: “What would it take for Houston to be as world famous for every neighborhood and school producing whole and healthy children as we are for NASA, the oil and gas industry, and the world’s largest medical center?”  Whatever the answer, Dave realized, it would take the Church … and not just the Church.  Weeks later, Dave shared his experience with a group of 25 pastors and ministry leaders.  The room went noticeably silent and still, as if God had shown up and Himself asked us the question.  When words were again spoken, the sentiment was unanimous: this would not only be a goal worth giving our best efforts and resources to, but would both bring tangible blessing to our neighbors and city for years to come and it would expand the Kingdom of God.  As with the blind man whom Jesus touched, we were beginning to see, but the shapes were not yet clearly defined.

It just so happened that Mission Houston had months prior launched a citywide research effort to establish a baseline, the Houston Profile Project.  Utilizing the expertise of Baylor University’s Center for Community Research & Development, conducting interviews with leaders in 45 clusters of communities, and deploying volunteers in three- or four-to-a-car “windshield survey” teams to make notes of their neighborhoods, our primary initial interest was in determining both the objectively verifiable places of societal brokenness in our metropolitan area and the most widespread “felt needs” of our neighbors so that the Church of Houston would know without guessing where our serving would have the highest impact.

One finding confirmed what we had not yet seen: the single most pervasive needs found in all 45 areas of the city, and reported by both people of faith and those of no active faith, centered on concerns for the present and future of kids.  Further, one characteristic of the rapidly changing demographic face of the city was this: the number of at-risk kids in our city was multiplying far faster than the number of human, financial, educational, and health resources being allocated to them.   In spite of great efforts within and beyond the faith community, more and more kids faced an unhealthy present and a predictably grim future.  One prominent sociologist in the city even declared that Houston was on the verge of becoming a third world city, whose employers had to import their workforce because the kids of Houston were not adequately prepared. And now, as with the blind man in Mark 8, the plight of kids right before our eyes came into increasingly clear focus.  We would never again be able to not see what was now crystal clear.

Fast forward almost ten years.  The terms “collective impact” and “movement” are more common than their reality, but they provide language for the quest we remain focused on – to adequately address the needs of kids here in Houst

on so they have a likelihood of a future with a hope.  After five years of multiplying mentors in the public schools, and after over two years of one-on-one conversations with leaders of hundreds of organizations working with or for children and youth, Mission Houston joined the YMCA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Catholic Charities, and others to birth in October 2013 a new initiative that seeks to add 250,000 new volunteers to maximize the efforts of service providers who are committed to addressing together the physical, emotional, educational, and spiritual needs of those age 0-19.  Called simply “For Houston’s Kids,” this fledgling undertaking is not faith-based, but it is faith community friendly.

And it has no guaranteed success.  There are significant obstacles … challenges … that loom large.  In the non-profit and government sector, and sadly even in the world of the Church, we have too little experience of or appetite for shared efforts and joint credit.  In the Church, there are still many who believe that if an organization is not specifically faith-based and names Jesus as our reason for being then the work undertaken does not contain “the gospel.”   But those of us engaged inside the Church and the wider community building relationships and casting the vision believe the work of sowing the seeds of Church unity (people of good faith) working in intentional partnership with anyone who cares about the well-being of our kids (people of good will) is worthy of our best efforts.  You see, it’s not for or about us, or the organization.  It’s “for Houston’s kids!”

We request your prayers.  We ask you to connect us with anyone in the city you know who yearns to see kids well-educated and healthy in every way.  And we’ll keep you posted on progress towards the God-sized goal, whether that includes fruit through our organization or not.

North Minneapolis Partnership Uses Collective Impact Approach for Jobs

Last week I visited with Rev. Richard Coleman, who serves as the Executive Director for Hope United CDC in North Minneapolis (featured in short video below). Rev. Coleman helped form the Northside Community Response Team (NCRT),  a coalition of the leaders of 60 nonprofit organizations and philanthropists who came together shortly after a tornado ripped through North Minneapolis on May 22, 2011. The NCRT mobilized thousands of volunteers to clear debris and help residents. In addition they received and distributed over $677,000 to assist the area and its residents in its recovery.

This was no small task. Of the 7,000 properties in North Minneapolis, 3,700 were damaged by the tornado in an area of the city that is depressed economically. Recently, a report was shared at Hope United’s Bridge of Reconciliation which stated the unemployment rate at 37% in North Minnepolis. In addition 67% of the residents are on some form of public assistance.

Having recovered from the tornado, Hope United and the members of the NCRT have dedicated their organizations to addressing the ongoing economic issues of North Minneapolis through a collective impact approach to jobs called the Workforce Investment Network (WIN). This is a community based collaborative led by the chief executives of Summit Academy OIC,  EMERGE, Northpoint Wellness, The Minneapolis Urban League, Urban Homeworks, Community Standards Initiative, and Hope United CDC.  The goal of WIN is to reduce public assistance dependency by 25% over the next five years.

This is a powerful example of a faith based organization working in partnership with community organizations around issues they and the community care about. They know the baseline and are working toward agreed upon outcomes using a collective impact strategy.

Collaboration and Leadership is Key According to Federal Reserve Bank Study

New York Times Columnist, Thomas Friedman recently wrote, “Now we have record productivity, wealth and innovation, yet median incomes are falling, inequality is rising, and high unemployment remains persistent.”In the new economy, there is global competition for jobs and innovative technologies are replacing positions in manufacturing and in the professional ranks as well.

The Federal Reserve, Collaborative Leadership and Jer. 29:7

In the midst of all this change, we are called to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7

When the Federal Reserve studied the way cities prosper economically, they found that the key is not geographic location, industry mix or demographic composition. The key to prospering economically as a city is collaborative leadership.

In a Community Affairs Discussion Paper “Reinvigorating Springfield’s Economy: Lessons from Resurgent Cities” authored by Boston Federal Reserve Researchers, Yolanda K. Kodrzycki and Ana Patricia Muñoz studied 25 mid-sized cities from 1960-2009. Most of these had populations between 100,000 and 250,000 during the period of 1960-1980, although some were larger in 1960 before shrinking in population. They identified 10 resurgent cities that were doing better than the rest according to the following criteria:

  • Median family income
  • Change in median family income ranking since 1960
  • Poverty rate
  • Percentage point change in poverty rate since 1980
  • Percent chang in population since 1960

“The most important lessons from the resurgent cities concern leadership and collaboration. Initial leadership in these cities came from a variety of key institutions and individuals. In some cases the turnaround started with efforts on the part of the public sector, while in other cases nongovernmental institutions or private developers were at the forefront. In all cases, the instigators of revitalization in the peer group cities recognized that it was in their own interest to prevent further deterioration in the local economy and they took responsibility for bringing about improvement. Regardless of who initiated the turnaround, economic redevelopment efforts spanned decades and involved collaboration among numerous organizations and sectors.”

The ten resurgent cities identified in the report were: 

  • Evansville, IN
  • Fort Wayne, IN
  • Grand Rapids, MI
  • Greensboro, NC
  • Jersey City, NJ
  • New Haven, CT
  • Peoria, IL
  • Providence, RI
  • Winston-Salem, NC
  • Worcester, MA