The Healing of the City

Transforming ministry means embracing both church growth and community health. The church of the 21st century will not just focus on building bigger churches but better communities, claims a Christian futurist.

SprawlAgainst the “dark satanic mills” of industrializing England, William Blake (1757-1827) made this vow: “I will not cease from mental fight, nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, till we have built Jerusalem, in England’s green and pleasant land.”

Since 1992 my Jerusalem, my “city upon a hill,” has been Colorado Springs. Here under the majesty of Pikes Peak, America’s mountain, I find my inspiration.

But all is not well in Camelot. We have grown by over 30 percent in the past decade and now face a billion dollars in backlogged infrastructure costs, which neither taxpayers nor developers want to cover.

Already California-like freeway construction has caused leap-frog development or sprawl, stretching the carrying capacity of our city in providing adequate coverage of police and fire stations.

The funny thing is that the whole time I have lived here, I have never heard a church sermon on the future of our city.

We’ve prayed about “revival.” We’ve marched for Jesus to “take our city for God.” And we’ve hosted the “national day of prayer.” That may have lowered the wall between the church and the community, but we have yet to take any intentional steps forward in creating our community’s future.

Other sectors of our city are doing little more than the churches to guarantee that we will be a healthier community as a whole in one or two decades than our city is today. Our City Council has adopted a “comprehensive plan,” but its values and policy are not tied in any measurable way to the day-to-day decisions our city makes.

To address this problem of backing into the future I turned to the World Future Society. As a result, a handful of local professionals have been meeting once a month since September to ask what can be done, if anything, to change the way our city creates its future.

Rather than just grow, we have been asking how our community might develop. Smart growth or wise development should be sustainable, meeting needs of the present without diminishing the resources of future generations.

All over the world people are recognizing that leadership no longer is coming from old institutions and special interest politics. They aren’t waiting for permission from those in power; instead they are organizing themselves, examining old assumptions and looking for change.

Our futures group agreed that whatever we do, we should address our challenges at a systems level in the community, rather than do another short-term, low-impact project.

Providentially, soon after we organized, we discovered a parallel group that had been comparing notes for a year on “Key Indicators.” One of their members, Dr. Daphne Greenwood, had proposed that our community undertake a “Sustainable Indicators” project.

Triple Bottom Line Measures

Triple Bottom Line Measures

Indicators are statistical snapshots of the past and present growth of a community. Basically, a city should measure what it wants to be, from economic, social and environmental domains.

For example, if you felt that people should spend less time commuting, you would measure “Average daily commuting time.” If you were concerned about home ownership for young families, you would measure “Percent of homes that are affordable to a medium family income.” If you were concerned about preserving open space, you would measure “Percent of Residents within Three blocks of Parks.” If you were concerned about whether people have access to health care, you might monitor the opposite, “Emergency Room Use at Hospitals for Non-ER Purposes.”

One city that has done an exemplary indicators project has been Sustainable Seattle. Through a civic panel process they chose some 40 indicators to measure their health. Two years later in 1993, they completed their first Indicators report. By 1998 they had done their third.

During that time, Seattle reduced its total water consumption by 12% through strong conservation measures and industry cooperation. Their improvement of “Water Consumption” also strengthened their freshwater resources and boosted their commercial fishing industry of wild salmon. On the declining side of sustainability, by 1998, Seattle saw “health expenditures rise” and more “children living in poverty.”

For the past decade, Maureen Hart has been networking cities that are measuring their progress toward sustainability. Her group, Sustainable Measures of North Andover, MA offers excellent training, coaching and publications for teams aiming to transform their city. I encourage you to spend some time at their website reading their FREE training manuals, searching their database of indicators and browsing their links.

Another must see organization for charting your city’s future is the National Civic League. Best known for their annual All-America City Awards, the League works directly with communities to foster cross-sector collaboration and grass-roots problem solving. They have over twelve years of direct experience in helping groups launch “Healthy Community” programs.

The National Civic League states: “The challenges that we face in our communities are so complex that we have to learn new ways to look at them–through new eyes. Before, we tended to see our problems through a microscope, in isolation of each other and therefore, addressing them one at a time. Today we need to view our problems through a wide-angle lens; exploring the relationships that exist between them and finding the deeper solutions that can ripple through many problems. This broader approach suggests not only a fresh definition of our issues, but a new manner in which citizens, government, not-for-profits and the private sector must work together.”

So how is our indicators project coming along in Colorado Springs?

I am pleased to report that as a result of collaboration between the Center for Colorado Policy Studies and Katie Donnelly, one of our Futures task force members, we have completed the first draft of our indicators research.

Transforming ministry for the 21st century will mean embracing both church growth and community health. Like Blake, we must “not cease from mental flight” until we have built Jerusalem–both its temple and its walls.

All things have been fulfilled in Christ. Heaven and earth have been reconciled. The “healing of the nations” in Revelation 22 is not far off but is in our midst (Heb. 12:22-24). The pursuit of God is the pursuit of a healthy and whole community where future generations can find His presence.

Our heavenly calling as Christians to seek the City of God is realized as we carry out our earthly responsibility as citizens to build the Good City.

Dr. Jay Gary is president of PeakFutures.com, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years he has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

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