You can find prophetic keys to your city by watching the local nightly news.
Marc Estes, an executive pastor of City Bible Church in Portland, Ore., says it’s on TV news where you’ll see your city’s greatest needs—what the population is groaning about. And Estes believes it’s the church’s mandate—in fact, its pleasure—to help identify and heal these wounds, that His name would be known.
As you search for the key to unlock your city, don’t necessarily latch onto what another church is doing just because there’s momentum. Pray and ask the Spirit where God is directing you. Whether your church is 50 people or 5,000, that’s the first revelation you need: Where does the city need help?
“Any leader who identifies a need and then goes into the community to solve it,” Estes says, “to me that is one of the most explosive, transforming things they can do.”
Next, Estes says you need to believe God can work across church and community boundaries.
City Bible Church does many things for the community without asking anything in return. They have renovated 30 rooms where foster kids meet with their parents. The church raised $50,000 for that job and mobilized 400 people over four days, including U.S. Bank employees, staff from Kohl’s and a high school dance team—people mixing and developing relationships with Christians.
“Now we have key foster care officials in the state asking us how we can help with the thousands of disconnected dads and dysfunctional families and rehabilitate them,” Estes says. “School officials are asking how we can help with truancy issues. I’m meeting with captains of police departments. They’re all looking to the faith community to help them solve our city’s most colossal problems. I believe it is God’s plan to place the church in her rightful place as light and salt in our society.”
In Portland, another marginalized group increasingly burdened in a place once called “America’s least Christian city” was the police. The pastors at City Bible Church saw the need and stepped up.
“Probably one of the most-closed people groups in our society is law enforcement,” Estes says.
To serve that sector, City Bible Church built an executive lounge for officers, a place where off-duty police could relax on leather furniture and eat free food served from granite countertops in front of big-screen TVs. The lounge is open 24 hours a day and clocks 300 officer visits a month. There is no forced prayer and no heavy Christian sales job.
It didn’t take long for relationships to blossom.
“I started doing ride-alongs and getting invited to roll calls,” Estes says.
Soon after, City Bible Church extended its service by honoring police officers with awards, partnering with police to help in schools and conducting marriage seminars only for officers. Recently, the church was even asked by the police department to spearhead an extreme makeover project for the widow of a recently slain officer.
How can you get started? Estes shares six keys to help pastors and ministerial leaders reach their cities:
1) Align your mission and vision to be a gospel-centered church. Evangelism and discipleship must become your core focus.
2) Align ministry efforts around living like Jesus and sharing His love. This could include serving the community in tangible ways.
3) Mobilize the church around significant needs in the community. Maybe the public school system is in dire need of help and teachers could use support.
4) Build on relationships when meeting those needs. If it’s the school system, introduce yourself to the principal and faculty. Offer to bring in coffee and donuts.
5) Commit to reaching your city as a lifestyle. It’s not what you do; it’s who you are.
6) Celebrate the stories in every service, meeting and event. Testimony is how you can shift your church culture to one that is gospel-centered. Tell stories of transformation. Raise the bar for what members expect God to do in the lives of the people around them. Celebrate God’s goodness.