The Beginnings of NJ CityServe
In the fall of 2012 parts of New York City and much of the Jersey Shore coast was forever altered by Hurricane Sandy. I was in a northern region of the state less affected by the storm but we still lost power for a good 50 hours. The loss of power somewhat paralyzed the state and when power returned a few days later it was as if we didn’t really understand the size of the damage, we were tuned into a state of shock.
At my church, we rallied a bunch of church and community workers and ran to the nearest spot affected. We start mopping up icy cold water, tearing down soaked walls and bleaching floors. Praying and comforting people who had lost nearly everything. The donations began pouring in, and for the next 6 months we found ourselves busy running truck loads of supplies to those affected. The good part of all this was the many volunteers hours by the church. The negative was found in the lack of organization and the redundancy of effort and resource.
Over the following year and half a number of efforts were made in partnership and prayer between churches and through the guidance of the Luis Palau Association as they came on scene to birth NY CityServe. This inevitably led to the branch identified as NJ CityServe.
The Questions that Brought Us Together
Spring of 2014 I, with the partnership of Raul Burgos, sat down with a dozen leaders to ask these questions: What would it look like for the “Church” to be a valuable resource to the state of New Jersey? And how do we accomplish a John 17 model: that “if we were one they would certainly believe Christ is the Sent One of God”? Lastly, could this be a statewide initiative?
What developed over time was a team of Co-Chairs that identified County Champions and relied on a heavy dosage of relational trust. Like a hub and spoke model if you will. 5 Co-Chairs spanning a distance of 2 hours worth of driving would go out of their way to meet every-other month while also meeting with leaders open to engaging in the CityServe mentality.
We strategically partnered with Jinu Thomas of Collyde Ministries, also one of our Co-Chairs, and were able to leverage the Collyde Summit as a platform to share with potential leaders what was happening. From those conversations we quickly identified key people to build the initiative in their local communities. Eventually the efforts grew and NJ CityServe became a reality to one degree or another in 12 counties, with even more birthed expressions on an even more localized scale.
As coached by the Palau CityServe model, the genius behind effective outreach for all of us was no longer the “this-is-what-I-can-do-for-you” model, it was now the local church leadership going to its community leaders and asking, “how can we help?” This model also forced us as Co-Chairs to limit our ability to pigeon-hole everyone into a doing the same outreach. It left everything wide open to organic growth.
Our Organizational Model
Each Co-Chair is responsible to be in consistent communication with assigned County Champions so that we could continue to encourage their collaboration as unified churches and so that we could bring their stories back to the table and share with others. Three times a year we call all the County Champions together to tell their stories and these times were the most enriching for all of us. It was a wonderful thing to see what ideas churches had come up with and to see how one group would then inspire another.
At one point we initiated a “Season of Service” but it proved too complicated because we believed the local leaders needed to meet the needs of its immediate communities, therefore those needs trumped a neat service calendar. We also tried to prioritize common outreach efforts like Justice, Mercy, and Urban Development to streamline our focus and communication, and while we accomplished wins in all these areas like School Partnerships, and support to NJ’s Coalition Against Human Trafficking, much more was accomplished in the way of developed relationships between church leaders and their county or community leaders, town-by-town.
Yet, because we held an organized model of leadership, even though quite organic, it further gave us the vantage point to see:
1. Areas of common involvement. Something we would identify as the Spirit of God showing us where the hurts and needs of the state were more common and how the church could rally support in those areas. In particular, fighting against the opioid epidemic and substance abuse concerns rose to the top.
2. It allowed us to identify community and government initiatives more friendly to the support and co-labor of the churches, which we then could promote and further build up their good efforts with our added labor and love.
In the end what we found most effective was a system of Co-Chairs who would meet more regularly to keep the ball rolling; a reliance upon local county leaders to follow through on their own story, some more successful than others; and an annual platform through Collyde Summit to help us continue to tell the story as well as identify new leaders still disconnected or uninformed.
This system of leadership kept our costs extremely low and relied upon the immediate community churches to work together, also covering costs together for their collaborations. Minimal amounts of money were raised in order to create an effective website and to promote a handful of initiatives that gathered very large support and recognition. Due to the organic nature of it all and the need for local leadership to pull their own weight, the cost against NJCS was less promotion of our branding. However, the victory was increased recognition for all of our local expressions that came through THAT community’s people and leadership.