Taylor Swift is one of the most popular singers of our day—with everyone but some New Yorkers, as it turns out. She has recently been named Global Welcome Ambassador for New York City, and released a new single, “Welcome to New York.” But critics complain that the song “celebrates as generic, flat, and lifeless a New York as has ever existed in pop culture.” Others call her a “whitebread out-of-towner” since she only recently moved to the city.
If we’re going to connect with our culture, it’s important that we listen to our culture. No one knows this better than Dave Runyon, executive director of an amazing initiative in Denver called CityUnite. I met Dave when we were together in New York City last October for Movement Day, and spoke recently with him about his work.
“We call the party, ask the questions, then work together to accomplish things we could never do alone.” So Dave explains the remarkable success of their gospel movement. CityUnite partners the faith community with business and government leaders to address major issues facing their area. Over the past seven years, they have recruited over 80 churches to their network.
Their strategy works as a three-legged stool, each leg essential to the others. Local government officials such as the sheriff and city council members know the issues of the community better than most. These officials take the calls and hear the complaints of constituents. They know the work that needs to be done for the good of the city.
The business leg provides leaders—women and men who know how to implement strategy and mobilize people to do the work. And the faith community brings a strong spirit of volunteerism, understanding that they have not come to be served but to serve. CityUnite has recruited 11 “city connectors” to facilitate these relationships between government, business, and faith communities.
And they have built a neighboring movement that calls Christians to obey Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Dave notes that we too often turn Jesus’ command into a metaphor. CityUnite calls believers to build relationships on proximity: we learn our neighbors’ names, show them Jesus’ love, and share our lives with them. There is great power in being served by our neighbor—borrowing a cup of sugar or power tool. When the people of God walk outside their front door and build relationships, things happen. Since we share the things we love, believers will naturally share Jesus with their neighbors.
What God is doing in Denver, he wants to do in your town. Do you know your neighbors’ names? Would you take the initiative to build a relationship with them? It can be as simple as borrowing a hammer or discussing the local news. Taylor Swift wants to welcome us to New York—you and I have the privilege of welcoming people to Jesus.
NOTE: This January, our ministry is participating in Movement Day Greater Dallas. I will be facilitating the leadership track, Catalysts for Culture Change: Four ways to transform the world as a servant leader. You can sign up with early bird pricing until December 22.