Author Chip Sweney has been the community outreach pastor since 2002 at Perimeter Church (2011, p. back cover), which is located in John’s Creek, an “affluent suburb” just North of Atlanta, Georgia (Wikipedia, 2016). Sweney also serves as the director of Unite!, “a diverse group of more than 200 churches whose leadership believes our best witness to the community is to put our faith into action, together as one unified body of Believers” (Unite!, 2016). In the book, A New Kind of Big: How Churches of Any Size Can Partner to Transform Communities, Sweney (2016) tells the story of how Unite! was birthed, shaped and formed. Sprinkled between the chapters, Sweney also puts the spotlight on five other cities where similar networks are found and draws practical lessons from each.
Inspired by two authors and their books, The Intentional Church by Randy Pope and The Church of Irresistible Influence by Robert Lewis, Perimeter Church created “the Community Outreach department” and set out “to research the twelve-mile radius around [the] church to discover the needs and to find the groups already meeting those needs” (Sweney, 2011, pp. 25-26). Their aim was to locate partners in their community and place their people with these partners. Along the way, they “discovered that the needs were bigger than our church could handle” (Sweney, 2011, p. 27). Not only did they establish partnerships with outside agencies, but also internally between the departments within the church. Taking the example of Lifebridge Church, led by Pastor Rick Rusaw (co-author of The Externally Focused Church), Perimeter Church required each department “to build into its annual goals a plan to get people serving in the community. Such efforts help transfer the DNA of doing from the visionaries through the staff to the congregation” (Sweney, 2011). All this took place in 2002.
A year later, a network of 150 churches joined together and Unite! was born (Sweney, 2011, p. 27). The partnering churches provided the funds and staff time to resource the partnership. During a weekend four years after, “six thousand volunteers from over sixty churches gathered to work on 250 service projects inside the twelve-mile radius around Perimeter Church” (Sweney, 2011, p. 16). The story of Unite! as told by Sweney brims with lessons learned and successes celebrated. The website www.uniteus.org stands witness of its ongoing impact in the greater Atlanta region.
The reason why I am focusing on the startup phase of Unite! is that this is where our church, the Hanoi International Fellowship (HIF), is at. We have established our own outreach department called CityPartners and seek to place our people with and provide funding for our partner agencies in the city. We are currently establishing a network among local churches, discovering what they are doing, and seeking how we can partner together to “Love Hanoi.” As Perimeter Church (an afluent mega church) discovered, the vision for city transformation is too big to do alone.
The story of Unite! is an inspiration to me, to HIF, to large and small churches alike, and to all international churches that we also can do this big thing. Through selfless partnership, churches can see their communities impacted and lives transformed. I intent to reference this story in my final thesis project and the principles and practices shared by Sweney to our CityPartners ministry. Only God knows the impact we can see in Hanoi five years from now when churches work together for the benefit of the city.
By Jacob Bloemberg
Sweney, C. (2011). A New Kind of Big. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Unite! (2016). Unite! Retrieved from http://www.uniteus.org/
Wikipedia. (2016). John’s Creek. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johns_Creek,_Georgia