(Third in the series on 30 Actions and Ideas that Create Good Cities)
In 1975 I was considering a position with Young Life in the Pittsburgh area. All potential staff met with Reid Carpenter (pictured below), the Young Life Regional Director. Reid began that day with the big vision for the region, the nation, and the world as he shared the newly minted vision of the Lausanne Movement: “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” Riffing off his friend and Lausanne Cities Associate, Ray Bakke, he quickly refined the statement to: “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole city.”
Reid identified Young Life as a part of this larger international evangelism movement and said, “Our vision is to make Pittsburgh as famous for God as for steel.” In doing so he interpreted Lausanne’s mission for the local context in order to land tangible results. He and others in Pittsburgh took this worldwide missional vision and made it their own.
Reid took it down one step further. He applied the vision to the youth ministry work we were considering as he said, “Young Life believes in an approach that values evangelism and discipleship with youth. If you had two tea cups and five eggs, three eggs would be in the evangelism cup and two would be in the discipleship cup.”
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.
- A community garden initiative is now growing fresh fruits and vegetables.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Seniors Activities: At the local community center, activities for the seniors of the community were begun.
- 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.
- Health Initiative: The churches are offering a free health clinic in the community.
- Community Clean up: Heavy trash pick up days.
- Learning Center: A learning center for kids, youth, and adults grew from community initiative.
- 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.
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.
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.
Today I leave to speak at the Gather Global Conference in London and to meet with national catalysts for city transformation movements from around the world. Before I go, I thought it would be good to share one more presentation from our recent South Central GoodCities Leadership Gathering. Below is a guest blog and video from Rebecca Walls, the Executive Director of Unite, which serves Greater Dallas. The 9 minute video below was recorded in one of our break out sessions.
Whole Church. Whole Gospel. Whole City. That’s a big scope! What role do events play in that?
To be honest, while convening key leaders is one of the main functions of Unite, I don’t generally like big events. Since my mind is constantly spinning with thoughts about on-going collaboration and impact, taking time out to plan a big event feels like a distraction. But I’ve learned that they can play a very strategic part in our work – especially when they have a few specific components.
We’ve done 3 big events in Unite’s history (www.unitethechurch.org):
- We launched Unite with a huge coordinated community service event called “Go & Be.” On May 1-2, 2010, 50+ churches across Greater Dallas mobilized almost 20,000 volunteers who collected food, painted houses, planted gardens, and more.
- In January, 2013, around 600 diverse Christians joined together for the launch of our city-wide prayer initiative called “A Prayed 4 City” (www.ap4c.org). This marked the beginning of a monthly prayer effort of 80+ churches and organizations who have adopted one day per month to pray through a common guide focused on the real needs of Greater Dallas.
- Then in January, 2014, Movement Day Greater Dallas(www.movementdaygreaterdallas.com) convened nearly 1,400 diverse Christian leaders to hear a common vision and to develop specific, measurable goals related to transformation in several areas of great need.
What do those 3 very different events have in common? They were catalytic. Why? Here are 15 key ways these events benefit gospel movements:
- They bring the “whole Church” together – – all denominations, races, sizes, socio-economic levels, professions are a clear expression of Christian unity.
- They tell the “whole Church, whole Gospel, whole city” story.
- They create new levels of relationships
- They expose the masses to the real needs of the city and connect those needs to our Christian faith.
- They coordinate the work of the body of Christ.
- They build a collaborative spirit that can lead to collective impact.
- They create a shared vision for the city and give everyone a common language.
- They uncover additional resources that you might not have otherwise known about.
- They encourage diligent servants; they let them know that there are others who care…that they’re not the only ones.
- They spark relationships between diverse people who care about the same things leading to shared best practices, coordination, and/or collaboration.
- They can be used to equip people with best practices, training, or other resources.
- They can be used to develop shared measurements for impact by finding out what everyone’s already doing, collecting stories, etc.
- They raise awareness of what you’re doing and your organizations values.
- They make an almost incomprehensibly big vision and mission very tangible.
- And because of those 2 things, they can increase funding.
Each type of event can provide it’s own unique benefit. For example, community service events provide low-level engagement opportunities that will hopefully lead to long-term, relational, empowering service. On the flip side, prayer events provide a way for intercessors to engage the city transformation work in a way that matches their passions while also providing the supernatural power for the transformation itself.
But the most important benefit of big events is that they can bring glory to God. With that comes great responsibility to represent His heart well, but if you’re doing that, I encourage you not to be ashamed to make the most of every PR opportunity.
My prayer for every city is that the Church will become known for praying for, serving, and loving our neighbors and communities in their areas of greatest need: poverty, hunger, education, injustice, or whatever that might be for your city. I’m so grateful to be living in a time in history when He’s bringing His Church together to do just that and am excited to be walking alongside you!
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
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.
At our recent GoodCities Leadership Gathering in Phoenix, Pastor David Drum shared about the importance of developing a culture of honor among pastors in Tucson. This important aspect of church unity has its roots among leaders of primarily African American and Hispanic churches. In the 2:48 minute video below, Dave talks about what he’s learned and how this can be helpful in other cities as well as we pursue city transformation.
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.
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.
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.
(This blog is guest written by my friend and colleague, Jim Herrington, co-founder of Faithwalking. The 9.5 minute video below was recorded at the SouthCentral GoodCities Leadership Gathering in Waco earlier this month.)
The entire church world today is talking about “missional.” Missional has become a buzzword whose use has become so pervasive that it means everything and nothing.
In the Faithwalking community missional has a precise meaning. It is rarely an individual activity. It is done together. For us, people are living missionally when they are journeying together in authentic community and working to see the Kingdom of God expressed in a specific place and/or among a specific people. This missional definition informs how we live.
For most of us, learning to live missionally requires a journey into personal transformation. Personal transformation is the engine of missional living. People who are living missionallybring the kingdom of God with them in their callings at home, at work, and in the places they serve and recreate. In this way, many people living missionally are having a transformational impact on people, places, and communities.
In this video, Jim Herrington describes some of the work that is done in Faithwalking to help people on the journey of personal transformation that leads to missional living.
Faithwalking is a spiritual formation process that equips people to live missionally. You are invited to join a Faithwalking group and engage this journey.