Uniting Behind a Common Goal, Zone Blitz Brings Faith-Based Collaborations
To Springfield city officials, involving the faith community in its Zone Blitz initiative seemed like a natural fit. Helping those in need is nothing new for these houses of worship and their members.
City Manager Greg Burris explains, “So, when we started the Zone Blitz, and we finished the ‘Community Listen’ where we asked the nine neighborhoods in the northwest quadrant of the city what they wanted to change, and the impacting poverty commission report was coming out about the same time, it was pretty evident that there was a role for the faith-based community to get involved in addressing some of these things.”
Many faith-based groups already have projects and services in place that address some Zone Blitz focus areas: childcare and education, providing food and shelter, and assisting with job placement, to name a few.
What was new to many of these groups, however, was collaboration with other congregations.
“The old vending machine model of government where you say I’ve put my coin in and I’ve made my selection, I’ve pulled the lever, in other words I’ve paid my taxes, I’ve told you what I want done, now government you go do it. There are some issues you can’t approach that way and addressing poverty is one of them,” states Burris.
Instead, Burris cites the “barn raising” model.
He describes this philosophy as, “we’re all in this together,” adding, “That’s where the faith community has just responded so amazingly in our community.”
To get the ball rolling Convoy of Hope, the City of Springfield, and Community Partnership of the Ozarks teamed up to host a Pastor’s Summit, which took place November 2nd.
This brought together representatives from more than 70 congregations.
The day was spent learning about community issues, discussing group strategies, and evoking a desire to “unify around service to the city”.
“It crosses all boundaries, and so it doesn’t matter what type of church, what faith, it doesn’t matter. They all can coalesce around this issue of helping those in need,” states Burris.
From the Pastor’s Summit alone five partnerships emerged based on three program offerings; neighborhood clean-up efforts, identifying school-based needs, and pairing up churches.
The pairing is, “A church program connecting small churches and large churches called ‘Elevate’ that Convoy [of Hope] is spearheading,” says Cora Scott, Springfield’s director of Public Information and Civic Engagement.
This ongoing program helps churches connect with one another and teaches them how to engage with their community. Burris notes that many partnerships were strategically put in place.
Brentwood Christian Church and Central Assembly have been on opposite sides of some social issues, notably the city’s non-discrimination ordinance. An amendment to that bill that extended protections for LGBT persons was repealed by voters in 2015, leaving divisions within the faith community. Brentwood pastor, Phil Snider, explains that just because the two groups disagree on certain issues does not mean that they cannot work together to achieve a common goal.
“For our partnership, for instance, with Central Assembly, there are some very practical kinds of things that we’re able to accomplish, and it’s an opportunity for people from different geographical areas, or at least people who worship in very different geographical parts of the city, to work towards really important, tangible, concrete needs,” says Snider.
In addition to the Pastor’s Summit, many church leaders have yielded service time to city officials so they can speak to their congregations.
“Amazingly, pastors were willing to give up the pulpit on a Sunday, which I’ve never seen happen, and let us go tell that story,” recalls Burris.
The main mission of the city, in supporting the collaboration of faith-based groups, has been rooted in making introductions. The grassroots approach sprung up rather organically, notes both Burris and Scott. They recall taking Phil Snider and Central Assembly’s David Jayne to their first lunch meeting.
“We invited them to lunch, and they just hit it off from the very start. We could have just walked away from the table probably at that point and they would have done it,” jokes Burris.
Out of the Brentwood, Central Assembly partnership a music program supporting Pipkin Middle School has emerged.
Snider also notes that, “There are other ideas that have been talked about related to recreational basketball leagues, related to bringing people in the community together and drawing on resources and assets connected to supporting neighborhood centers, and being able to work with tutoring programs.”
Collaboration continues to spread as new partnerships and projects spring up often.
Jeremy Hahn of Life360 Church has also played a major role in helping bring groups together. Working out of the Fairbanks facility, in the Grant Beach neighborhood, gives Hahn added benefit. Here, multiple groups come in contact every day as they share the space. Just up the stairs from Hahn’s office sits that of Redeemer Church.
“I think for the most part, we have received overwhelming support for what is going on. I know our people that we’re connected with, about 150 right here in the neighborhood, are always making comments and just amazed that we can get together with Christ Community Church out on Republic Road and they’ll help us with things. Or Redeemer Church who does meet right here, we’re actually doing a joint Christmas-eve service together. And just exciting partnerships are happening,” notes Hahn.
Life360 is a congregation that does not have one set meeting space. Many times they go out and “infiltrate” the community, as Hahn puts it, to host their services. Its Sunday night dinner service, usually at the Fairbanks, has evolved into an opportunity for other churches to join Life360 in communicating and collaborating with the citizens of Zone 1.
“Many other churches have approached us very interested in helping us serve some of our Sunday night community dinners”, explains Hahn.
Walking through an under-construction section of the Fairbanks - its third renovation phase, Hahn tells of many opportunities to come. That will include a coffee bar, neighborhood market, and screen printing shop. All designed to be utilized and run by Zone 1 residents.
“The unique part of what we will do is utilizing the coffee shop, and then in the basement is Life360 Screen Printing where they can learn everything from design to production in the screen printing shop, or how to be a barista, how to run a business, all of those things all can be learned,” tells Hahn.
With so many moving parts, many of the faith-based pieces for Zone Blitz are still being put together.
Snider says current efforts include building financial support and a base of volunteers.
“So, a lot of the groundwork is being laid especially in terms of communication and letting people know primarily about the possibilities in front of us and how are we going to fund those because some of them are quite ambitious. And it’s gonna require a commitment on the part of a lot of people not just a handful of people,” notes Snider.
Church leaders, Snider and Hahn among them, acknowledge that there is still much work to be done. Connections have been made and ideas exchanged, but now the task of bringing these efforts to fruition remains.
As these collaborative programs pick up steam, it’ll be the response of Zone 1 citizens that determine their success.
“I don’t think it’s helpful at all if it’s not owned by the people of Zone 1. They’re the ones who live there, they’re the ones who are aware of the situations far more than those who live outside of Zone 1,” Snider explains.
City leaders look forward to citizen feedback as well. Based on efforts to date, they’re optimistic.
“To my knowledge this is the first time local government has gone to the faith community directly and said, we need your help,” says Burris.
Individually, congregations have been serving others for years. Now, participants of this united front between the city and faith-based organizations aim to collectively knock down barriers; and in its place build a better life for citizens in Zone 1.