Reggie McNeal Joins GoodCities

GoodCities is pleased to welcome Reggie McNeal as City Coach. He joins Glenn Barth who continues to serve as President. Through GoodCities, Reggie and Glenn offer leadership development through the City Impact Accelerator, City Convene, and City Coach. To welcome Reggie, email him at reggie@goodcities.net. To connect about leadership development email info@goodcities.net.

10 Benefits of ABCD in Spring, TX

Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) is an approach to community transformationin which those who work for community change do so by working with local leaders rather than delivering services to them or for them. I first learned about this approach while leading a city movement in Muncie, IN in the early 1990’s. Simply defined, ABCD is a way to find and mobilize resources a community already has. This approach is central to transforming communities and became an important part of my DMin at Bakke Graduate University in Transformational Leadership in the Global City. At the end of this post is a 4 minute video of Rev. Andy Sytsma explaining ABCD principles.

Asset Based Community Development is always rooted in a local community and draws on the assets within the community. In this way local knowledge, understanding, gifting and calling is strengthened, so that people are empowered and the community is strengthened. Below is the story of how ABCD principles are being applied through the Old Town Spring Heights Task Force in Spring, TX.

Rev. Andy Sytsma is the pastor of New Life Christian Reformed Church in Spring, TX, a city of 53,000 about 30 miles north of Houston. The older part of Spring grew up along the railroad that still runs through town. The newer portions of this fast growing small city are much more upscale than the older portions of town. Old Town Spring is composed of storefront merchants and a residential community across the tracks that only recently was named, Old Town Spring Heights. This is a community of roughly 600 residents and eighty homes surrounded on three sides by a sub-division. Old Town Spring Heights was established in 1885. The first church was formed in 1902. In the Peaceful Rest Cemetery, former slaves are buried. For many years, it was known by most of the residents of Spring as the community “across the tracks.”

Old Town Spring Heights is:

  • Mostly senior citizens raising children, whose parents are not present for a variety of reasons.
  • Economically challenged.
  • 80% African American with the rest being Hispanic and Anglo
  • Composed of hard working shop owners, business persons, ranchers, and farmers.

The ABCD effort began when Rev. Sytsma’s predecessor in 2006, Rev. John Medendorp, began prayer walking in Old Town Spring. He decided to cross the tracks to Old Town Spring Heights and quickly became aware of the crack houses, gangs and other issues faced by this community.

One day, while prayer walking, Pastor John connected with Pastor Frank Callaway of True Vine Missionary Baptist Church, a practical-minded former business person. Both sensed the prompting of the Holy Spirit to do something. Together they believed that they could make a difference.

This led to the formation of the Old Town Spring Heights Task Force in 2006 that included the leadership of five churches (2 Methodist, 2 Baptist, and 1 Christian Reformed Church). Today there are seven churches involved in the Task Force, an example of Christian unity in action.

They began their collaboration with activities like prayer walks, days in the park, a monthly worship service on the 3rd Sunday of each month. Church pastors now swap pulpits and the churches have built a sense of unity in mission. On the first Sunday of each month there is an assembly of the residents of the community in which the question is asked, “What do you want to do together?”

The nature of this meeting is like a Home Owners’ Association. Out of these sessions, so far, Old Town Spring Heights has engaged in several community initiatives…

10 benefits from Asset Based Community Development. 

  1. A community garden initiative is now growing fresh fruits and vegetables.
  2. A New Identity for the Community: the naming of the community as Old Town Spring Heights. The group put up a sign and the identity of the community helped residents begin to dream about what could be.
  3. Street Lights: The residents asked for street lights and the churches worked with Xcel Energy to put street lights in the community. They held a service called “Jesus is the Light of the World.” At the end of the service, they lit the street lights for the first time.
  4. Honoring the Past: Peaceful Rest Cemetery had become overgrown through lack of maintenance. The churches got the cemetery designated as a historical landmark. The people of the community now have become stewards of this important and sacred place.
  5. Seniors Activities: At the local community center, activities for the seniors of the community were begun.
  6. Police/Community Relations Improved: Criminal and drug issues were addressed by inviting the County Sheriff’s office to have a regular presence in the community. Old Spring Antioch Baptist Church hosted a meeting with local police officers and community residents to improve communications between the community and police.
  7. Health Initiative: The churches are offering a free health clinic in the community.
  8. Community Clean up:  Heavy trash pick up days.
  9. Learning Center:  A learning center for kids, youth, and adults grew from community initiative.
  10. Infrastructure: The sewage and water system has been inadequate, so that rains often brought flooding. Engineers from churches are addressing this with county and city authorities to solve the problems.

 

City Transformation through Christian Unity in Houston

Marilyn Lee has an MBA. She has all the skills a growing business would want. She has chosen to work with one of the world’s largest enterprises, the church. She is investing her time in the work of the whole church taking the whole gospel to all of Houston through Loving Houston, a Christian nonprofit focused transforming Houston by helping churches serve local public schools. In the video below, Marilyn tells her story and how she has learned to follow Jesus’ example of meeting people’s real and felt needs and calling them to follow Him.

This 13 minute story was a part of GoodCities’ City Convene Conference in Houston, TX in April, 2015. Our next City Convene Conference will be held in Cincinnati on September 21-22. Click the button below for registration information.

City Convene

Tweet this! “The complex web of factors that present as needs in people’s lives are so much bigger than one pastor, one church, or one ministry.”


My key take away from Marilyn Lee: Sin and brokeness are complex and create dysfuntional relationships between people and within institutions. It will take govenrment officials, economic experts, business strategists, nonprofit service providers, and people of faith and good will in all types of institutions working collaboratively; using collective impactmodels, with a common agenda to solve each complex problem. Only together will we see cities be transformed into places of shalom and wholeness where people flourish and experience God’s grace.

City Transformation as A Platform

In our recent GoodCities Leadership Gathering in Phoenix, Eric Swanson introduced a creative approach when he gave a 20 minute presentation titled “City Transformation as a Platform” (his full presentation is available at the end of this post). His belief is that the real power of a decentralized network in a city is found in the many ways that people live out their callings and yet, unify under a city transformation vision.
Swanson notes that people will find their place within a common vision if it serves their own self interest. He distinguishes between self interest and selfish interests by stating that self interest is a belief from those involved that they will get more out of being involved with the movement than through non-involvement. Selfish interest is a viewpoint that only engages because of a self-promoting ulterior motive (i.e. a sales rep who gets involved in a volunteer organization to make sales instead of to accomplish the goals of the volunteer organization.)
He compares this new approach to Web 2.0 which has radically changed our online experiences. Web 1.0 offered a way for people and organizations to share information about themselves with others. Web 2.0 offers an interactive experience where internet users pursue their interests and engage information and organizations to get what they are looking for. In Web 2.0 Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple are four big platforms where internet users find what they need.
Swanson asks, “How can we be more like…
  • YouTube not ABC?
  • Wikipedia not Encyclopedia Britannica?
  • Airbnb not Marriott Hotels?
  • Twitter not Associated Press?
  • A playground not Little League?

City movements become much more powerful when they lift a transformational vision that engages people and organizations in their self interest. Swanson listed the kinds of self interests that various parties within city movements hold deeply to give examples of why they may become involved. These self interests include:

When city transformation becomes a platform rather than only residing in an organization, the work of a city movement will experience new levels of effectiveness.

Download Slides From Eric Swanson’s City Transformation as a Platform

The full presentation  below was recorded at our GoodCities Leadership Gathering. The video of Eric was pretty shaky, although the audio was very good, so this presentation shows a few stills of Eric interspersed throughout the presentation of his slide deck.

City Transformation through Faith at Work

Chuck Proudfit and the Origins of At Work on Purpose in Cincinnati

This five minute overview was recorded at our recent City Advance Conference in New York City. There is much we can learn from the stages of development of At Work On Purpose of Cincinnati. What Chuck talks about is central to the development of any healthy citywide movement that has city transformation in view.

The City Advance in NYC is one of three conferences that we offer through GoodCities for leaders of Christian unity movements in cities. Our next conference, “ONE,” will take place in Phoenix, AZ on January 27-29 and will engage leaders of John 17 movements working to make cities more redemptive places to live and work. We’ll have stories of unlikely partnerships between Catholics and Evangelicals, between people of different ethnic, cultural and socio-economic classes.

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.

Over 100 Gospel Movements in England

On April 30 and May 1, I was a speaker at the Gather Global Conference in London at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity founded by John Stott. My presentation was on the expansion of Christian city movements internationally. What interested me, however, was what I was hearing in the many presentations from gospel movement leaders involved with purposeful church unity movements in cities and communities throughout England.

The opening report came from Roger Sutton (in photo at the right), the leader of Gather UK, who hails from Manchester and works with the Evangelical Alliance. He told of the growth of Christian unity movements in England to the point where there are over 100 such movements today including over 20 in London.

There has been keen interest in these movements since the economic crash of 2008 and the British government’s decision to institute austerity measures rather than expand their currency as we have done in the U.S. The austerity plan meant that the British welfare system would be cut back substantially. For instance, the city government of Manchester has announced a second straight year of £80 million cuts.

At the same time, local church leaders have boldly stepped forward after years of developing a sense of church unity in pastors’ prayer groups to offer the volunteers of their church to serve their communities. Roger said that as they offered to serve the poor in cities, their focused collaboration was helped along by local governments that asked for one phone number to call when they have a need.

The church is inherently decentralized and, in many cases, this has made it hard for congregations to serve together. However, in England, once the government and pastors confronted the new reality, they recognized that decentralized missional congregations were a strength offering many points of service in neighborhoods throughout cities and communities.

The government went two steps further to assist in the transition. First, they began to offer congregations micro-grants of £500-£1,500 through intermediary groups like the Cinnamon Network. This network offers motivational videos and concrete plans for churches to initate and strengthen volunteer mobilization to serve people in their city or community. (Pictured left: Musician Andy Flannagan led worship at the Gather Global Conference.)

Second, local governments have been transferring assets to community organizations at greatly reduced prices. The Localism Act of 2011 recognized that local “…councils are facing intense financial pressure, resulting in the need to maximise the use of publicly-owned land and buildings, or dispose of them and their associated costs, wherever possible.” This has opened the door to community groups such as church coalitions being able to purchase or in some cases being given community centers, libraries, and other community assets provided that they will engage volunteers or staff to provide enhanced services to the community.

This combination of the willingness of missional churches to engage their members in service and the ownership of facilities to serve their communities more effectively is contributing to a revival of faith in churches across England. The stories are numerous and many can be accessed through articles and videos on the www.wegather.co.uk web site.

I was greatly encouraged by the stories I heard in London. In the next several blogs, I’ll share more stories and videos from my trip to England. Also, some of you will be happy to know that we are working to bring some these leaders to our City Advance Meetings in New York City October 21-22 including Andy Flannagan to lead worship. I hope to see you there!

(Pictured below: the sign outside the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity where the Gather Global Conference was held.)

City Transformation Begins with Personal Transformation

 Christian unity for the purpose of serving among the poor and city transformation is reviving the church and awakening people to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ around the world. Personal transformation is at the heart of shaping good cities and it is the good news of Jesus Christ that transforms the hearts of persons. God’s calling is central to gospel movements and church leadership.

Earlier this month, I was in London for the Gather Global Conference. Graham Hutchinson and I met in preparation for an interview he would be be conducting with me on stage. Graham is the founder and leader of One Voice York, a weekly pastors’ prayer gathering that has been meeting for the past 15 years in York. He also serves as the pastor of Elim Pentecostal Church. However, before he engaged in either of these leadership roles, Graham was a successful chef who one day had a life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ and from that moment forward, he hasbeen living life with vision, hope, faith, and purpose. Most of all, I found Graham to be a man who exudes the love and light of Jesus Christ. Here’s a six minute video in which he shares his story.

Two Emerging Generation Leaders Transforming Communities

Alexis Christensen and Ryn Farmer both received their Masters in Social Work from Baylor University in 2012. That year they both went to work for the Waco Community Development Corporation as Community Organizers. Ryn works in the neighborhoods of East Waco and Alexis works in North Waco.

A key quality that makes each of them effective in their asset based community development approach is that they are good listeners. Alexis says, “I have the privilege of hearing the visions and dreams of community members for their neighborhoods and work with them to translate those dreams into reality.”

Each of them are helping connect church volunteers to schools in the neighborhoods they work with. In the 2.5 minute video below, Alexis tells the story of volunteers from Calvary Baptist Church and the families of students in West Avenue Elementary School. Ryn tells how one young girl at J.H. Hines Elementary School was impacted by a volunteer from Pleasant Olive Missionary Baptist Church.

Both are stories of how social indicators are moved by the caring actions of people who put their faith into action.  The outcomes are seen in local community development that is transforming communities and creating good cities.

The Arts, Job Creation, and Community Transformation in Italy

Tonight on All Things Considered, a story that demonstrates how Christians involved in the arts in the second, third, and fourth centuries were brought together with impoverished youth by a visionary priest to restore both the artistic creations and prosperity of this younger generation. Christopher Livesay in his story, “Under the Streets of Naples, A Way Out for Local Kids”, reports on how Don Antonio Loffredo arrived in the rough and tumble Sanita neighborhood of Naples ten years ago and “…found three levels of frescoes, chapels, and cubicles beneath the neighborhood’s trash-strewn streets.”

Don Loffredo began to engage the youth in their teens to help him clean out these early Christian catacombs and reveal the artistic treasures within. In the process, the youth created a thriving business that today employs forty. “Before the the full-scale makeover, roughly 5,000 visitors came per year. Now it’s up to 40,000.”

This is a prime example of how community transformation occurs through asset based community development. This is the missional church at its best. The outcomes in work like this move the social indicators and create good cities.The 5 minute story of community transformation combines an appreciation for the arts and job creation. Click here to listen to this compelling story.