"Although Portland is hardly the only place where evangelical Christianity is evolving (and making new friends in the process), there is little doubt that evangelicals here are on the front-end of a deep-change trend that is taking Christianity into its new future. What's especially interesting is the "why?" - the strong likelihood that Christianity's best face is showing up here in the unchurched mecca not in spite of the city's secularism and skepticism- but because of it."
-Tom Krattenmaker, "Evangelism 2.0" USA Today
In proudly progressive Portland, Oregon, we've been on a fascinating four-year journey [click here to view the Portland story video] of loving and serving our city in the name of Jesus Christ.
In the summer of 2008, hundreds of local evangelical churches came together for "Portland CityFest with Luis Palau." These large scale, citywide, proclamation evangelism events have been a focus of the Palau ministry for years and continue to be a main component of our ministry model. But in 2008, we decided to try something new. In addition to proclaiming the Good News, we wanted to demonstrate it. We began to approach evangelism with a truly holistic, word and deed model.
We requested a meeting with our mayor to ask him how we could better serve. Mayor Adams identified key emphasis areas, and the churches got to work. More than 27,000 volunteers served in the months leading up to CityFest. And in the four years since, we've mobilized thousands of volunteers for an annual Season of Service. The impact has been extended long after the festival as church volunteers now regularly serve in Portland in the areas of Neighborhood Revitalization, Homelessness, Hunger, Trafficking, and Health and Wellness.
A large suburban church began to regularly serve one of our most underserved Portland public schools. Now they have two church employees who office at the school. The trust they've built, and the changes they've made, have led to our school superintendant asking for a church partner for every single public school. To meet the needs of homeless and hungry citizens, church volunteers now offer free medical clinics for the uninsured. Neighborhood clean-ups abound. Recently the Mayor and over 40 key faith community leaders gathered together to discuss how to fight the serious issue of trafficking. Each Christmas, churches compile donations and give a Christmas gift to the city. Last year, the donations were given to create the first long-term shelter for victims of trafficking.
Two of our largest churches, Solid Rock and Living Hope, are both engaged in service efforts, but are also baptizing 800 or more new believers each year. Solid Rock's hundreds of house churches are all taking on missional activities in the community. It's encouraging to see the Body of Christ loving and serving, in addition to baptizing and disciple making. As the evangelical community in Portland rediscovers the calling of showing, in addition to sharing their faith, everything is changing. And it's only the beginning of what God is doing in our city.
Churches are also working together in relationship as never before. The impact of one church humbly serving and evangelizing is profound. But the impact of a united Church displaying God's love actually has the power to change how the world views the Gospel. Recently, some of the largest churches in the Portland area came together for an event called "Seven" - seven weeks of prayer and fasting for the city of Portland. Each week hundreds of believers would gather at a local church to fast and worship and pray for Portland. This unprecedented display of unity, and genuine care for the spiritual health of our city, made a great impact on all involved and will continue to take place each year.
We are focused on lifting up Christ, not branding a movement. But, as Christ is lifted up, a positive outcome is a new perspective on the movement. The Portland story is just one example of many. It's a joy to see God working in similar ways in cities around the nation. As these "gospel movements" are taking hold in major urban centers around the world, the name of Jesus is lifted high, churches are united, people are served, and the Gospel is proclaimed. As we pray together, serve together, and continue to make our focus glorifying God and loving others, we truly will see sustainable transformation - of our cities, and ourselves.
Kevin Palau is president of the Luis Palau Association based in Portland, Oregon. Kevin leads the Palau Association in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ through festival evangelism in cities around the world. He continues to lead the Season of Service; a citywide initiative that began in Portland in 2008 and has now expanded to cities around the nation. The Season of Service is designed to mobilize the church to meet urgent community needs. Kevin's passion is seeing the church united for holistic Gospel ministry for the good of cities everywhere. Read more about Kevin's work with Gospel Movements: GospelMovements.org and connect with him on facebook and twitter.