Can my city be saved? More than ever before, pastors and ministry leaders are asking that question. Read how networks of churches and ministries are coming together to transform cities like Fresno, Calif., and El Paso, Texas, for Christ.
When the Billy Graham Crusade came to Fresno in 2001, organizers were surprised to discover a coalition of faith forces already in place.
“The Billy Graham team called us the most connected city they had ever seen inAmerica,” says Gordon Donoho, senior director of Faith Community Builders, a network of pastors and Christian leaders and part ofFresno’s city-reaching initiative, One by One Leadership (onebyoneleadership.com). The city’s Christian leaders had already begun the redeeming work of unifying, praying and taking action to reach their city. In fact, the work started a decade before.
During the 1990s many leaders in cities across the country, such as Pastor H. Spees who helped create One by One, answered a call to redeem their cities for Christ. In 1990, businessman Barney Field saw a vision to reach unbelievers through a citywide effort in El Paso, Texas. Charles Daugherty heard a call to city reaching during the 1980s and returned his efforts to the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, community in 1998. And Daniel Bernard came back from mission work inNigeria in 1996 to reach the city of Tampa Bay, Fla. Today, more leaders than ever before are answering a calling to see their city renewed and redeemed.
“We are seeing God call His people together in an unprecedented way,” says Pastor Glenn Barth, national facilitator for city/community ministries for the Mission America Coalition (missionamerica.org). Barth, along with Pastor Jarvis Ward, also a national facilitator, are in contact with Christian leaders in 750U.S. cities who are interested in joining the efforts of the Church in their area. Of those, 187 have begun a citywide network.
Barriers to unity are coming down, Ward says, and churches and ministry groups are realizing that no one entity can reach a city.
“I think that’s a key point,” he notes, emphasizing the significant impact of churches and ministries that are working in concert to open the Gospel to differing cultures within a community. That sort of reconciliation has laid the groundwork for further reconciliation among clergy, denominations, ministries, even civic groups, educators and the public at large—with an aim toward redeeming the city.
Beginning Stages—Redeeming Your City
MissionAmerica provides numerous resources to city reachers and potential city reachers. Glenn Barth, national facilitator for city/community ministries, says the organization works with leaders of cities at five different stages: exploration, formation, operation, transformation and replication.
He emphasizes that Mission America is not actively enlisting city reachers, but rather equipping those that have heard a call. Currently, Barth and his co-facilitator, Jarvis Ward, are in e-mail contact with 1,900 leaders in more than 700U.S. cities.
“We don’t recruit people to join the city-reaching group across the nation,” Barth explains. “All we do is seek to identify movements of God.”
Mission America organizes regular monthly conference calls between 60 to 100 leaders to network, share ideas and hear experts in city and community ministries and other areas, including Dr. John Perkins, George Gallup, Jr., Michael Lindsay, Luis Palau, and Mission America’s Paul Cedar and Wayne Pederson.
El Paso – Redeeming the Unchurched
Eight years ago, churches and ministries in El Paso, Texas, united to challenge their city to read the entire New Testament in one year.
“I kept asking God how we could get more people prepared for the return of Jesus,” says Barney Field, executive director of El Paso for Jesus. “He finally answered in 1996 with one word: Bible!”
Billboards and bumper stickers throughout theTexas border town announced the initiative: “1997: Year of the Bible 5 Minutes a Day.” And intercessors began to pray that El Pasoans would develop a hunger to read the Word. With the help of investors, El Paso for Jesus provided 58 churches, including 11 Catholic parishes, with 250,000 bookmarks imprinted with the five minutes-a-day reading schedule. And in answer to prayer to reach people en masse, the editor of the El Paso Times, a Gannett-owned newspaper, agreed to print the daily readings for free.
Field recalls how the citywide initiative impacted one man he met that year during an outdoor worship service in El Paso.
“I asked him how he got saved,” Field says. “He said that one day he opened the newspaper, and there was the New Testament printed there. It was 1997, the Year of the Bible.”
Each day, the man said, he read the Scripture in the newspaper and finally responded to the offer for a free copy of the New Testament. That year, leaders gave away 60,000 New Testaments and plan to provide more Scripture this year. Responding to a vision of Christ coming back to El Paso, Field launched El Paso for Jesus in 1992 with the goal of preparing half of the 2 million people living in the greater El Paso area for the return of Jesus. Its network of business leaders, government, schools and the media is undergirded with prayer and interdenominational pastors’ groups working together for the Kingdom.
“All sense of competition, envy and jealousy melts away,” says Pastor Ron Fox of Valley View Baptist in El Paso, one of the participating churches involved in city-reaching. “Denominational barriers fall, and Christ is exalted.”
Once one of the most violent and gang-infested cities in the country, Field says it is the Prince of Peace that has come to make El Paso now reportedly the second safest city of 500,000 or more in the United States.
“Our city has changed from darkness to light.”
Fresno, Calif.–Redeeming the Oppressed
In the early 1990s, the Rev. H. Spees, now senior pastor of Northwest Church (nwc.org), one of the largest congregations in Fresno traveled with 40 other pastors to a mountain retreat for prayer. When he returned, he acted on a vision to redeem his city. He began by moving his family to a multiracial area with the highest crime and lowest income levels. Some 15 other families followed him to that same neighborhood where together they helped launch several new ministries, including neighborhood renewal programs. As a result, crime there has dropped by more than 50%.
In 1994 Spees helped to create the Fresno Leadership Foundation, now called One by One Leadership, to connect and equip people to improve the community. The One by One network unites 130 to 140 pastors from all ethnic and denominational backgrounds for monthly luncheons to consider the needs of the city. Together, they organize collaborative worship services, community outreach work, social justice campaigns, educational reform and housing solutions.
“That is where the church should be—in every sector of city life,” says One by One’s Gordon Donoho.Mission America Coalition’s Ward agrees. “Every where a Christian is, there ought to be some change—societal change, educational, marketplace, arts and entertainment, sports, judicial system, business, healthcare … .”
The impact in Fresno is obvious and visible. Like El Paso, the city of 500,000 has gone from last place in a 1983 survey of American cities rated on “liveability,” to the title of “All American City” in 2000. The list of projects and accomplishments is long and impressive, firmly anchored in both faith and civic renewal, and achieved, “one by one—transforming our city one child, one family, one block, one neighborhood at a time,” Donoho says.
Tampa Bay, Fla.– Redeeming the Poor
The Care Cup sits in the St. Petersburg, Fla., city hall again this year. It’s an accolade the mayor there has been proud to receive for the last two years as his city has won the Care Cup Challenge during CareFest “A Week of Caring.” Each year, CareFest joins volunteers from the bay area who repair homes, beautify neighborhoods and show compassion to some of the 2.5 million people living in St. Petersburg. The city bringing the most volunteers is awarded the Care Cup. The event draws a total of 1,500 people to serve.
“We’re going out, and we’re blessing the city,” says Daniel Bernard, president and founder of Somebody Cares Tampa Bay (sctb.org), an organization aimed at unifying Christians and ministry efforts to impact more people. The city-reaching movement began hosting CareFest three years ago.
“Rather than re-creating the wheel, one of Somebody Cares’ core values is to help the people in this area go bigger, better, farther,” says Bernard, author of City Impact: How to Unify, Empower and Mobilize God’s People to Transform Their Communities (Chosen).
Somebody Cares also works to coordinate the efforts to provide 23,000 of the community’s needy students with school supplies, and its Food Truck program delivers groceries in “care sacks” to feed Tampa Bay’s hungry—about 30,000 each month.Somebody Cares also preaches the Gospel through music and events that impact thousands more each year.
Like the leaders in other cities, Bernard says none of this is possible without unity among churches and prayer as a foundation.
“For the first two years, we just prayed,” he recalls, adding that he also emphasized and continues to focus on compassion. “This is unity with a purpose,” Bernard says. “Ministry to the poor brings back credibility to the Church.”
Cedar Rapids, Iowa – Redeeming the Church
Divorce is down 9% in Linn County, Iowa, according to 2003 U.S. Census Bureau statistics. And marriage is up.
Charles Daugherty, coordinator of the Greater Cedar Rapids Prayer Alliance, attributes this change to a commitment to the marriage agreement signed by 105 pastors and seven professional counselors in the Cedar Rapids area.
About five years ago, the 180,000-member community began to feel the effects of this agreement when leaders offered engaged couples a basic, consistent set of standards to prepare them for lifelong commitment. Churches began to host premarital classes and provide mentoring volunteers for couples from the community that wanted to get married at their church. The classes and mentoring continue today.
“We are working together in unity and saying the marriage covenant is very important,” Daugherty says. Other Christian leaders agree that building a foundation on unity and prayer has been essential to bringing together the Church in Cedar Rapids.
“We live in a wondrous time when the Lord is extending grace to unite His people,” says Francis Frangipane, senior pastor of eastern Iowa church River of Life Ministries (riveroflife.org), one of the participating churches. Moreover, The Greater Cedar Rapids Prayer Alliance has organized the Lighthouses of Prayer initiative—an intentional gathering to pray for God’s light to come into the lives of specific people in the city, Daugherty explains. The Alliance also sponsors Convoys of Hope, a food, medical and jobs ministry to thousands of working poor in the Midwestern city.
“Imagine how America would be touched by God if every county, in every state, experienced a similar anointing upon faithful service of prayer and action from among their clergy,” says Dr. Steven Packer, pastor of the Noelridge Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Cedar Rapids (noelridgechurchdofc.com).
Also transformed are the participating churches involved in their city’s network. Church leaders have seen how their individual congregations’ efforts to impact their community are increased exponentially through ecumenical cooperation.
Through the network of churches and ministries in Tampa Bay, service to the poor has increased.
“We have been able to increase our outreach ministry to the homeless and working poor of Pinellas County,” says Glenn G. Miller, senior pastor of Solid Rock Christian Recovery Center. Last year, the church provided almost 72,000 pounds of food and served more than 21,000 meals. Last spring in Cedar Rapids, church cooperation helped pastors quickly organize to rent out theaters and show “The Passion of the Christ” to more than 1,000 Christian leaders, who in turn bought out 20 showings of the film as a community outreach.
In Tampa Bay, the city’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration included a network of churches and ministries that came together to give away free drinks, groceries, entertainment and preaching. When two local pastors presented an invitation for participants to accept Jesus, about 33 people did just that.
“A big event like that wouldn’t be possible without an organization on the ground,” says MissionAmerica’s Barth.
During the Year of the Bible in El Paso, churches reported thousands of people turning to Christ and hundreds of families joining congregations. One congregation reported a 30% increase in worship attendance in the first three months of the project.
Pastor Wally Chapman of the city’s Park Hills Christian Church says he sees God working through the city-reaching prayer, unity and events. “As we become proactive,” Chapman says, “people are getting saved.” But even beyond the large events and collaborative ministry, city reaching is impacting the focus of ministers and their congregations—turning them outward to bring more people in.
InFresno, as part of the One by One Leadership initiative, churches have adopted apartment complexes to provide on-site youth and after-school programs, tutoring, music lessons and adult education. The program, called Care Fresno, has been instrumental in dissipating drug traffic and reducing crime by 65% to 70%.First Church, one of the program’s participating congregations, sponsors a Care Fresno kid’s club for the low-income neighborhood around its building where a racially diverse group of children is growing up among drugs and alcohol, gangs and violence.
At first the kids brought tension to the white, middleclass church, says volunteer Valerie Hanneman. But now the congregation welcomes them and is raising money to take a group of about 50 to Marine World.
“God uses those children to open our eyes,” Hanneman says.
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