Interview by City Gospel Movements
What got you into this city movement work in the beginning?
I was working for the largest employer in town before I came to Abide Omaha. My family decided to move closer to areas of need in Omaha. All Abide staff live in the community. We believe it is important to get proximate to the problems if you want to do something about them. It also happens to be way more meaningful to live close to people who are different than you.
What are you currently doing?
Abide Omaha has been around since the 90s and has always had the focus to transform the inner city, one neighborhood at a time. About 7 years ago, there was a big shift and we started to really expand. Our staff grew and our budget tripled. We are a church and a non-profit, so our weekly activities include both aspects.
Bridges Church was started as a ‘church’ for people who typically say, “You’ll never catch me in a church.” We meet every Sunday for a Sunday Celebration. We start outside with dancing and it looks a lot like a grill-out. 600 people come and half of the people who come aren’t following Jesus…yet. We don’t use Christian language or focus so much on complex Bible teaching. It’s really a church for the unchurched. Most people don’t think of the church as being a party, but we think Christians should be fun.
During the week we have small groups that focus more on biblical teaching. More than 50% of the congregation is in a weekly small group. We are always doing leadership development and calling people higher. You won’t be in a small group for more than three or four week without seeing leadership given to others in the group.
The non-profit side of Abide focuses on transforming neighborhoods block by block. A block is a concrete description for a community. There are 700 neighborhood (blocks) in the inner city of Omaha that are marked by high levels of poverty and low health.
We buy houses on inner city blocks, flip them, and then have trained Lighthouse Leaders live in these communities. Lighthouse Leaders are people who live, work, and play in their neighborhood, and intentionally work for the transformation of that neighborhood—or in our case, one city block. They put on monthly events, celebrate holidays with their neighbors, and are always knocking on doors to meet people. We currently have 45 blocks with trained missionary families or individuals.
It’s amazing to see real change in these blocks. The police tell us that the crime rate goes down 75% by having us in the neighborhood. It is so encouraging that the city sees us as making a real, measurable difference.
Throughout the week we have sports clubs, tutoring, and mentoring. Three times a year we’ll host block parties where 1200-3000 people come out and enjoy the community. A partner church will bring food down and work the grill so we can talk to our neighbors during the event. We are serving deep poverty so oftentimes the church will provide the food and volunteers, but if someone in the community wants to bring something to offer, we’ll have them bring a roll of paper towels, or plates.
For 15 churches we are their urban mission center. We work with 8,000 volunteers a year and have the ability to host mission groups in the city because they can stay in our campus dorms.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
That one day Omaha would no longer have an inner city.