Thursday, June 5, 2014

Loving Houston — One Year Later (Part Two)

Loving Houston was a success.  In fact, it was such a success folks wanted to know what we were going to do this year?  Would we expand and try to extend the work into more parts of the city?  Would we undertake even larger projects?  What would we do?

A lesson I learned as a photographer helped.

Focus in photography is important.  We quickly disguard blurry, out of focus pictures.   Initiatives like Loving Houston also need focus, and the more we thought about doing the more unfocused our vision became.  The board solved that problem by determining the purpose of Loving Houston was to "celebrate and accelerate" the work of the church in the city.  

We will celebrate the work of Christ by identifying where the church is doing some great things.  Board members believed, and I am one of them, that the church is doing some great things in the city, but that many of them go unnoticed.  We will discover where the church is at work and tell those stories.  We believe this will show the positive good the church does and encourage other churches to undertake similar initiatives.  

We also want to accelerate the work of the church in the city, and there is so much that we can do and that needs to be done.  That's when we discovered another problem.  We had substantial funding (far more than we had last year) and we had two full time employees (in addition to Mike Kraxberger, we hired Marilyn Lee as communications director).  What was missing was the significant contribution the UBA staff brought.  In addition to all the work done by the volunteers, the UBA staff gave about 70% of their work time to Loving Houston, and that was something we could not sustain on a permanent basis.  So while we now had more funding and two full-time staff members, we really had fewer resources than last year.  Instead of trying to expand and do more we would need an even sharper focus, at least for now.

While the board wanted to expand the impact of Loving Houston and do even more than we did last year, we couldn't, which meant that we needed to be even more strategic in what we would do.  We needed to find a way to do better by doing less.  After much research, dialogue and prayer, the board thought the best approach would be to focus on enlisting churches to help the public schools in their community.

There were many good reasons for our decision:  (1) our children are our most precious human resource, (2) the quality of a child's education is one of the best predictors of future success in life, (3) the problems many public schools have delivering quality education are well documented, (4) there are already many church-school partnerships that can serve as models, (5) churches are free to develop the partnerships they deem best given the school's needs and the church's resources, (6) an initiative like this does not require the infrastructure needed to call out and coordinate the work of thousands of volunteers at one time like we did last year.  

Facilitating church-school partnerships will not be the only initiative Loving Houston will undertake.  We believe it will just be the first of many.  As we establish a track record of success, build a "brand," enlist other donors and expand the organization, we will be able to help the church meet many needs throughout the city.

While narrowing the focus of Loving Houston to focus first on schools may not satisfy everyone's desire to expand Loving Houston, I believe it is the right and best decision.  My prayer is that you will lead your church to explore the possibility of partnering with a school in your community--or perhaps partnering with an under-resourced school somewhere else in the city where the needs are the greatest--and that Baptists will lead the way in this significant transformation initiative.

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