In 2006, as teaching pastor of a large church in the Denver area, Dave Runyon found himself stalled. "I would spend most of my time on the weekend services," he says, "then go out and wonder, If this is success in ministry, I have to do something else, because it feels pretty empty."
Runyon sought counsel, read Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson's The Externally Focused Church, and was encouraged to "learn his city." He and other local pastors began attending council meetings and visiting civic leaders, all with an eye toward galvanizing churches to tackle a specific problem for the city.
Soon a church network focused on service was launched. That led to a meeting with the mayor of Arvada, Colorado, who suggested that the pastors help teach residents to be better neighbors. "I drove home that day thinking Jesus is a genius," says Runyon, co-author of The Art of Neighboring: Jesus' Call to Love Starts Right Outside Your Door (Baker), coming in August. The notion of loving God wholeheartedly and loving your neighbor as yourself was a strategic plan that could change the world. And thus was born Building Blocks, a multichurch effort to help Denver area church members and attendees engage with the eight neighbors most immediately surrounding them. More than 55 churches and 4,000 households have committed to the cause, and other cities are launching similar efforts.
Question & Answer
Please describe Building Blocks.
We focus on building relationships as opposed to evangelism. If people neighbor well, if people love other people because that's what God told us to do, we believe people will come to know Jesus. People sniff out when strings are attached. That limits effectiveness. Posture is everything. Our motives really do matter.
What makes it work?
We are simply taking Jesus at his word and challenging others to do the same. Congregations doing this together is a really big deal. When there is unity, people who don't know God will be drawn to him.
City leaders often hesitate to partner with churches for fear of proselytizing. How have you navigated that?
We had three and a half years of trust from working with city officials, showing them that we want to serve the city with them. We built up trust over time. We didn't come at them cold, and that was the key to making this work.
What challenges have you encountered?
The barrier of time. Most people live at a really unhealthy pace. When they begin to wrestle with Building Blocks, they realize doing it means saying no to other things in order to build relationships with their neighbors. Most people love the idea of this, but aren't willing to make the hard decisions that allow them to act on it.
How has Building Blocks responded to that challenge?
We keep putting the message in front of people to let them wrestle through it. As people mull on it, and realize they don't know half or more of their neighbors, that helps them make some of these hard decisions. There's a big difference between shame and conviction. We've tried to err on the side of conviction.
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Learn more about Dave Runyon and Building Blocks at ArtofNeighboring.com.
Previous "Who's Next" sections featured Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Marshall Allman, Michael Patton, Bethany Hoang, Bobby Gruenewald, Julie Bell, DeVon Franklin, Shannon Sedgwick Davis, Jon Tyson,Jonathan Golden, Paul Louis Metzger, Amena Brown, David Cunningham, Timothy Dalrymple, John Sowers, Alissa Wilkinson, Jamie Tworkowski, Bryan Jennings, L. L. Barkat, Robert Gelinas, Nicole Baker Fulgham, and Gideon Strauss.
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