City movements in large cities with large numbers of Christians present unique challenges for leaders of city movements. The church is usually highly decentralized with many different approaches to ministry and worship. Each congregation and ministry are autonomous in pursuing their respective missions. One of the exciting developments in our time is that many of these groups are coming together for synergistic efforts that will impact key areas that help leaders of cities address needs and move toward a strategic vision.

On the first Friday of each month I meet with a cohort of international leaders on the Global Urban Leaders Conference Call. It is an hour filled with stories of what works in the field of grass tops city movements of Christian leaders working with people of good will to impact their respective cities.  Last Friday, December 6,  Gary Kinnaman (pictured at right), Billy Thrall (pictured below), and I were asked to talk about the city movement in Phoenix. Gary is serving as Pastor-At-Large, sent by the church he served for over twenty years to serve Christ, and to network the church in Greater Phoenix. Billy is an urban pastor who works with ministries, business, and government leaders to do community development work. Both are strategic spiritual leaders, strong networkers, and articulate communicators.

Phoenix Rising: A Movement of Movements

The Phoenix metro is one of the youngest and fastest growing US cities. In 1950 the population was 250,000. Today it is 4.3 million and is the 13th largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in our nation. It covers 16,500 square miles, three times the geographic size of Connecticut!

Gary said, “There is little or no sense of community between the sprawling suburbs and Hispanic neighborhoods. Everyone is from someplace else, so moving from one neighborhood to another is no big deal. Twenty percent of the residential real estate sells every five years.”

The city movement in Phoenix seems to have little overall cohesion. There are many Christians in Phoenix who serve in important roles in business, government, education, the church, and nonprofits. Collaborative leadership has emerged around a number important social issues and vocational functions. However, there is not a central office, overarching strategic plan, or go-to-person in leadership for the body of Christ. Instead there is a loose fellowship of friends who recognize and appreciate what the others are doing to serve the city. Gary and Billy point to four major functional domains where collaborative work has developed. Each is listed here with examples of how purposeful collaborations are fueling positive change.

1. The Faith Community and The Church

Three leadership groups represent active, purposeful collaboration in this area.

BridgeBuilders:  Networks Christians in prayer and relationships. They have 450 local church prayer leaders.www.bridgebuilders.net.

Pastors United: A fellowship of pastors who pray together and work on ways they can help and support families with children to combat hunger, support their education, and make sure every child in need of foster care has a supportive family to go to.

CityServe www.cityserveaz.com – Billy Thrall (Pictured at right below) leads this network of 450 churches that first came together through a recent Luis Palau Festival held in Phoenix. They continue their work through an annual season of service that connects church volunteers to service opportunities.

2. Local, State, and Federal Government working with the Faith Community

The Governor’s Office Council of Faith-based Leaders is led by Gary Kinnaman and meets on a regular basis to understand how the faith community can better serve the people of Arizona.

Arizona 127 is a leadership collaboration between the Governor’s office, The Department of Economic Security, the Open Table, and leaders from a number of churches seeking to place children in need of foster care in supportive families. To learn more visit: www.az127.org and www.theopentable.org.

For Our City is a catalyst for constructive change at community grassroots levels.  For Our City is active in 11 cities in Arizona and serves to create a level field where the municipal, business and faith leaders initiate community projects through establishing a “Host Committee” that networks to develop and collaborate into an alliance. Visit www.forourcity.org for more information.

Human Services and Schools:

Arizona Department of Economic Security: Faith leaders work closely with the Arizona Department of Economic Security (known in many places as the Dept. of Human Services). They have a website that offers service opportunities: www.ArizonaServes.gov.

Streetlight is a collaborative ministry that works with social services and law enforcement to prevent sex trafficking (www.streetlight.org)

Hope Fest is an annual service event sponsored by CityServe that engages Christians and people of good will to serve among the poor each year (www.cityserveaz.com)

Adopt a School is a collaboration between churches involved with Pastors United that seeks to serve local public schools in response to the leadership of local school officials.

4. The Marketplace

The marketplace is primarily understood to be people working in the private sector. It focuses on how Christians through living out their vocational calling at work can impact the city for good. Phoenix has a number of collaborative channels that strengthen this approach.

The Pinnacle Forum is based here and leads an international discipleship work with the owners and presidents of companies. They have several chapters in the Phoenix area. (www.http://pinnacleforum.com/chapters/phoenix)

MarketplaceOne is an investment group that seeks to invest for impact in Phoenix and beyond. Their aim is to invest in the creation of profitable marketplace ventures for the transformation of societies. (www.mpone.com)

The National Christian Foundation, Phoenix is a local foundation composed of donor directed funds. Their goal is to mobilize an unprecedented abundance of Kingdom resources to accomplish every good work. (http://arizona.nationalchristian.com)

For Gary Kinnaman there are two principles in all of this.

  1. City movements, especially in massive and complex urban areas like Phoenix, cannot be managed from a central office. Leadership cannot be top-down, as one might find in a megachurch. Leadership is influence, and in city reaching, leaders must lead left, right, and up, but seldom down. Leadership must be collaborative, interactive, relational, and affirming of everyone who is Grass roots, grace roots.
  2. Transformational leadership must be inclusive of everyone doing God’s work—whether or not they are intentionally serving God in what they do. The NYC police and fire departments were doing God’s work on September 11, 2001. People serving in government and in the public schools are doing God’s grace. It’s what the Reformers called “common grace.

Conclusion: The Critical Role of Connectors

The situation Gary is dealing with is not uncommon in large cities with a large Christian population. Small cities or cities where there is a small Christian population may be able to have a single leadership team. However, in Phoenix, Atlanta, Minneapolis/St. Paul, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, London, Berlin, Sao Paulo, and many other cities, there are many dimensions to the Christian community. Our role is to encourage, challenge, and bless others who lead movements within the larger transformational city movement in our city. The connector roles that people like Gary, Billy, and others play in Phoenix are vitally important for any group of city leaders who want a sense of the greater work of city transformation that God is doing.