If you want to reach your city, you’ll need to step off your church property.
Not all church leaders, however, have caught this “city gene.” A phrase coined by Pastor Roger Valci who believes leaders with the city gene have an expanded vision of church. They can no longer view church as a building where sermons are preached, songs are sung, and cash foe tithing is tossed in plates (thanks, Pushpay). Church is, instead, a community of Jesus followers impacting the culture of their town and region by doing justice and proclaiming the good news in the wild, messy, lively space off church property.
Roger caught the city gene in 2005 when he accompanied a group of pastors from his town of Fremont, California to meet with government leaders. The pastors came to ask the government: “How can the collective Church help the city?” The government leaders were skeptical about these evangelical church leaders—surprise—so instead of telling the church leaders how they could help, the government directed the pastors to the Family Resource Center. The Center is comprised of two buildings which house 40 government, independent, and faith-based non-profits. It’s a hub for those who serve on the frontlines of crisis.
During a tour of the Center, the group of pastors realized these organizations were doing the same kind of work that the Church was called to do—care for those in need. The pastors didn’t need to start a new thing. Instead they needed to become aware of a good thing already at work in their city—off their church properties.
The pastors asked the President of the Center if they, too, could have someone office at the Center to accomplish one goal: help the organizations succeed by sending volunteers from churches directly to them. Roger Valci was nominated by the group of pastors to office at the Center.
He recalls that season when he said: “For the first time in my Christian life, I was off church property. I realized that for my entire Christian life there was this belief that was believed but never stated. It said: ‘if you want our Jesus, you have to come to our property.’”
Roger’s schedule shifted. He was now spending much of his week at the Center. He says: “We [pastors] had to get over some stuff. Most of the organizations didn’t have Jesus’ name of their door nor were they faith-based. We came to this conclusion: we want to help these organizations succeed because they’re helping people God loves.”
For three years, Roger officed at the Center and worked alongside what he called “some of the most noble people.” This experience changed Roger’s whole philosophy of church. Vision expands when you go somewhere you have not yet been. For Roger, that meant going to government-funded offices.
Big Vision Draws the Participation of Other Churches
When a church in Dublin, California, reached out to Roger to see if he would become the lead pastor of their church, he couldn’t revert to his previous vision of church which was constrained by the limits of a physical building. He told the hiring committee, “If you hire me, I will take you off this church property. God plants churches to reach cities.
To Roger’s surprise, the 50-year old church—Valley Christian Center (VCC)—hired him. For 10 years, Roger has stood by his promise—he’s taking the church to the city.
The first year, his church gave 4,000 hours of community service to the city. The second year, they gave 10,000 hours. In year three, churches from around the Tri-Valley began to ask if they could join his church’s “serving network.” Roger laughs when he recalls this season because VCC didn’t have a “serving network,” they were simply making a habit of getting off church property to serve the city. Other churches started to take notice and wanted to join in the bigger vision.
As we have spoken with 300+ pastors and ministry leaders about fostering unity amongst churches in their city, we have learned a critical ingredient to collaboration. That is, churches tend to show greater receptivity to work together when the meeting place and need centers on the city rather than on a single church. Competition between churches becomes irrelevant when the vision centers on the city. Every church is needed and valuable when the vision is bigger than what any one congregation can accomplish on their own.
When over ten churches began expressing the same desire to join together, they formed a non-profit which is led by pastors of the Tri-Valley. CityServe of the Tri-Valley was founded in 2009 with the same goal the pastors in Fremont had: serve people God loves by connecting resources and volunteers from churches to organizations serving on the frontlines.
CityServe of the Tri-Valley has grown to become a coalition of 27 churches and is now the first organization the Tri-Valley calls when they hear of a family in need. Listen to Roger tell the story in his own voice here.
Idea for a Next Step:
This week we invite you to:
Reflect on the last time you were off church property serving others. How did this experience compare to ministry done on church property?
Explore the organizations serving on the frontline of crisis in your community by conducting a simple Google search of government, independent, or faith-based non-profits. Consider visiting one of their offices to learn about life in their world. Better yet, invite another pastor from a different church to come along with you as a fellow learner.
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