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Most evangelicals and mainline denomination Christians have heard of Luis Palau.  If you don’t recognize the name, you’ve probably heard a sermon or two of his on the radio.  I had the pleasure of interviewing his son, Kevin Palau.  I’m happy to say that through this interview, I was able to learn about a network of churches which truly serves the city.

A Little about Kevin

Kevin Palau. Photo Credit: Luis Palau Association

Kevin Palau. Photo Credit: Luis Palau Association

Kevin has taken over as President of the Luis Palau Association (LPA).  The organization describes itself as existing “to proclaim the gospel, mobilize the church for evangelism, and equip leaders to transform their cities for Christ.”

First off, let me just say that that is an awesome mission statement…

Before becoming president, his father brought him up in the church, along with his siblings.  They worked with giants in the Christian community, primarily Billy Graham.  They would bring churches together to put on Crusade events.

And so from a very young age, Kevin was able to see what it took to create a network in the city.

With a background like that, it is no surprise that he has found great success in mobilizing churches and utilizing strategic partnerships to serve God.

He’s written a book about his experience called, “Unlikely“.  Watch the video below for more information about it.

And don’t forget to read the rest of the article after the video.

Creating a Network of Churches in the City

One of Kevin’s most successful initiatives through the Luis Palau Association was what started out as a conversation about evangelism in the city, and eventually became known as CityServe.

Up until this point, the Luis Palau Association had been attempting to reach cities through crusade evangelistic events.  They were very effective in bringing people to know Jesus and impacting communities in significant ways.

city civic leader church planter globeBut Kevin noted that the world was changing.  The Crusade events no longer had the same impact they used to in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  People in cities only knew the church for what they were against.  And not what they were for.

Can anybody relate?

The churches were viewed as aggressive lobby groups for Republican politics.  And it lead to the isolation of everyone outside the conservative camp.

The crusade events were seemingly lumped into the bitter taste in their mouths that people had against the church.  Kevin noticed that the people were not wanting an attractional model anymore.  They wanted an attractional community.

A community like the early church which was loving to the people, and had bold generosity.

As a result of these observations, Kevin had 2 ideas for changing the church’s reputation in the city of Portland, where LPA is based.

The people want an attractional community. #church Click To Tweet

The First Idea

city church planter civic leader peopleThey went to Sam Adams who at the time was the mayor of Portland (and who by the way is an open homosexual) and asked a very simple question:  “If we were able to mobilize 15,000 people in the various churches in our city, what could we do to help the city?”

The goal, of course was to hear from the city itself about what needs it has.  As the church, we might think we know what we ought to do in our communities, but the mayor will have a much better understanding.  It is his job, after all.

On top of that, it began to communicate a new intent of a relationship with the city.  Instead of the civic leaders expecting the church to come in with Republican demands and essentially hold the evangelical vote as a ransom, Kevin along with other fellow church leaders offered their service.

The church serving selflessly?  No, it can’t be happening.

To be honest, it’s really simple.  Almost too simple.  But we’ve been blinded by our Western Evangelical traditions for so long that an idea like this is considered innovative.

The Second Idea

The next item on the agenda was to have the churches host a festival in Portland.  It was done without any political overtones.  No politics whatsoever.

They just offered a great family day which included live music, food vendors, children’s play areas and more.

city church planter civic leader ferris wheelAnd the people LOVED it.

They loved that it was just a service to the community.  They loved that there was no pressure to vote a certain way or to join a church.

And then the people asked for more.

So Kevin and the LPA began brainstorming ways to create a more sustainable effort in the city than just a single, very fun event.  They kept in mind everything that the mayor had told them about what the city needs.

Now, they’ve developed relationships between the churches and different modalities in the city.  They work with the school systems, the foster care system, civic leaders, and even the LGBTQ community.

(Uncomfortable with that last one?  Well, how else are you going to communicate love for the people unless you actually do things to love them, even if you do not agree with their lifestyle and political stances?)

They’ve completely redeveloped the dying Roosevelt high school which lacked for funding.  They held community clean-ups, and partnered with the school leaders.  LPA has built all sorts of relationships with schools, to the point that schools now seek out partnerships with the different churches who are in the network.

They raise up foster families.  They hold homeless outreaches.  They run healthcare clinics for the poor.

And the results are amazing.  Here are just a few that Kevin described to me:

  1. Almost every school in Portland has a formal partnership with a church.
  2. The churches became known as an indispensable part of the city-community.
  3. The city government now insists on including Kevin’s church in city planning and development.
  4. They’ve demonstrated that they are a vital part of the community.
  5. They’ve opened doors to speak with younger, progressive Christians.

Yeah.  Amazing.  I know.

CityServe as a Bridge into the City

Now CityServe has broken past the barriers of Portland.

They operate with partners in many major American cities, such as New York, Phoenix, Sacramento, Houston, and more.

CityServe. Photo Credit: cityservepdx.org

CityServe. Photo Credit: cityservepdx.org

CityServe has built a “Celebrate & Accelerate” model, which Kevin was adamant is not a program.  “If it’s viewed as a program,” he reported, “you’re dead in the water.  People get defensive if you try and tell churches that they are not doing anything to serve the community.

They are more like goals, because, “Our city leaders didn’t know what was happening in the churches, and the churches didn’t know what the city needed.”

For the Celebrate aspect, they celebrate the good things that are going on, and they spread the message of that good so everyone can hear it.

For the Accelerate aspect, they find focus areas and convene non-profit leaders and church leaders who have a level of expertise in their respective areas (foster care, school system, etc.).  Then they find ways to have a collective impact.

CityServe helps people to accomplish these things in their own cities.

We've been blinded by our Western #Evangelical traditions for so long. Click To Tweet

A Personal Note

As you can see, the interview with Kevin was just a beautiful insight into what a network of churches can accomplish if they’re willing to work together and throw off the dying paradigm of the moral majority.

But my talk with Kevin was so much more than learning about his story and the story of Portland, OR.

It wasn’t long before he turned the interview around and began asking me questions about my own ministry in my own city.  And it wasn’t just out of courtesy.

He saw potential in me, and in my efforts in Lawrence, KS.  Kevin was supportive, and gave me the kind of encouragement that only a true mentor would.  He began talking strategy with me, and offered to help in any way he could.

And I just met the guy!  Via the telephone, nonetheless!

It honestly caught me off guard.

Kevin is truly a man after God’s own heart.  As influential and important as he is, he was willing to serve me (the little guy trying to honor God in his my way) through listening, reassurance, advice, and inspiration.

His effectiveness, love for people, innovation, and helpful attitude speak for itself.  Kevin’s got the Holy Spirit running his ministry.  And he is a model for us all as we all work to serve our own cities with the love of Christ.

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