The One Thing It Takes to Transform Community
When I had just started working at the church in Las Vegas, something amazing happened. Someone broke into our food and clothing center. That in itself wasn’t amazing. It wasn’t even that uncommon. The Flamingo & Eastern intersection was a hotbed for poverty, crime, and drugs. Literally the shadow cast by Strip hotels. But here is what was so amazing about it: A year before I arrived, Grace City had opened the Flamingo Outreach Center. It was intended to service the disenfranchised area it's in by giving out food, clothes, and prayer. It had been about a month since the doors opened and it had already been broken into twice, leaving our church out $2,000 in computer and worship equipment. Alarms were installed, extra locks put in, and bars now cover the windows. That 2,000 sq. ft. unit hosted not only an outreach center, but a Sunday night church service, a Wednesday meal with worship, and MANY community parties. Most importantly, it hosted a week-long worship event called BURN that the whole Las Vegas valley was invited to. As a result, something strange happened to the community over that year. The poverty cycle slowed, crime decreased, hope was returning to faces, and those in the community started to take ownership for it. The "cool" part about that break in was they intruded just to sleep there. He took nothing! And although we didn’t invite him to do that every night, we couldn’t ignore what it symbolized. Coincidence? Maybe. A couple months later we moved our church offices to a new building. We also doubled that space for where we operated our House of Prayer. That meant we prayed and worshipped every morning for an hour and a half. Dave, the pastor before me, joined me at the lease signing. While there, the landlord had a conversation with us that I’ll never forget. She said she wished we could do something about the awful graffiti that gangs were tagging on her/our building. Pastor Dave responded "It'll stop once we move in." It's polite to not question your superior in public. And I’d like to think of myself as polite. So 24-year-old me waited until we were alone. Then I nervously asked how we were going to stop the gangs, partially afraid that would also be my job.
He said, "wherever praying people go, the whole community shifts".
In 2014, painters were coming out every week to cover over the recent gang tags. Painters did not come back from the moment our lease started in 2015 until the church left in 2019. And the House of Prayer never stopped praying. Coincidence? Doubtful...but maybe. When Grace City was planted in 2012, the evangelical, Christian population was 5% in Las Vegas. We had established a House of Prayer before the church was even planted. It was the only House of Prayer inside the city limits. 3 years later, the same study showed the evangelical, Christian population was now 7% for no apparent reason. Was it because 2% of Las Vegas had encountered our best evangelists and disciple-makers? No, don’t think so. Was it because 2% of Las Vegas had fallen in love with our Sunday mornings and subsequently attended our services? Nope, definitely not. Was it because thousands of hours had been devoted to prayer for the city? That's for you to decide. Katherine and I moved to Las Vegas to get people into heaven. But we realized in our time there, God's heart is to get heaven into people. God wanted a cultural transformation in Las Vegas, not just an assembly line of salvation. I know He wants the same thing in Cincinnati. John 17:3 says, "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
Eternal life starts now.