"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, Ore., the future of evangelicalism has never been brighter. We've been on a fascinating four-year journey of uniting our gay mayor, evangelical churches, and key business leaders to meet urgent needs.
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, human trafficking, and health and wellness.
A large suburban church began to regularly serve one of our most under-served Portland public schools. Now they have two church employees who work at the school. The trust they've built, and the changes they've made, have led to our school superintendent 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 more than 40 key faith community leaders gathered to discuss how to fight the serious issue of human 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.
Mayor Sam Adams, who admitted initial skepticism when we first approached him in 2008, now says, "This is the largest, most successful, not just one-time, but now sustained effort, that the city of Portland has ever seen. ... The fact that that unusual partnership has come together... delivering the kind of results like few other partnerships I've ever been involved with, I hope also sends a message and underlines for Portlanders how important it is that they get involved."
Tony Campolo identified the sentiments of many, when he said, "Those issues are biblical issues: to care for the sick, to feed the hungry, to stand up for the oppressed. I contend that if the evangelical community became more biblical, everything would change."
As the evangelical community in Portland rediscovered the calling of showing, in addition to sharing their faith, everything has changed. And it's only the beginning of what God is doing in our city. We're in it for the long-haul.
Not only have many great needs been met, but churches are working together in relationship as never before. The impact of one church humbly serving is profound. But the impact of a united Church serving in concert, actually has the power to change how the world views the gospel.
Evangelicals, at our best, are recovering our heritage of social justice without losing our passion for seeing people follow Christ, truly holistically -- revering God's word, valuing community, and re-learning to engage with those who may not hold to our specific beliefs.
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 the changing face of evangelicalism. 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.