Soulfires: An Unexpected Job Offer

How a Sermon at a New Church Plant Turned Into a Movement

The first item on Yvonne’s list was to tap into Tim’s understanding of their own demographics to get a profile of those who attended Redeemer. They realized that because they were in Manhattan, the church was made up of late 20-somethings—single, ambitious, professional, highly skilled, extremely capable people with lots of degrees. There were doctors, lawyers, accountants, MBAs and more. Yvonne and the team suspected that their best strategy might not be to act merely as hands and feet. They also decided not to reinvent the wheel by creating new ministries. Instead, they chose to mobilize their specialized volunteers to go alongside other existing ministries and become “capacity builders”—professionals from within their ranks who would help to create more sustainable, efficient ministry models for the many, fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants operations around town.

Of course, without funds and a church infrastructure from which to draw money, how was Hope for New York going to take flight? With Redeemer dedicating its entire Easter offering to the ministry and with plans to hold fundraisers and apply for grants, Yvonne applied for 501(c)(3) status so that their finances could stand apart from Redeemer’s, preferring to be a part of the church but not dependent on it. That way, if the church—whose future was tenuous at best—faltered, Hope for New York would not.

Next, Hope for New York began to place volunteers around town at various ministries that people from the church were already involved with: Bailey House for AIDS patients, St. John’s House for the homeless and Operation Exodus for tutoring kids in underprivileged neighborhoods. New Yorkers, many of whom were not Christians and did not attend Redeemer, had no problem volunteering their time to altruistic causes under the banner of Hope for New York. Suddenly, they found their effort was falling in line with one of Keller’s core strategies: to engage the communities through assimilation. Not only was Hope for New York growing and reaching more people, Redeemer’s numbers were swelling as the volunteers were finding themselves attracted to the people and mission of Redeemer.

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Immediately, ministries that Hope for New York partnered with began to grow in strength, reach and sustainability. One example is a ministry that had been keeping all their accounting in a shoebox. Through the accountant that Hope for New York provided, the ministry was transformed into a tight ship, increasing their effectiveness and ability to present their finances in a way that would attract donors and grants.

In time, both Hope for New York and Redeemer were fully established and growing. Yvonne could see an opportunity coming into view. The volunteers that were drawn to their work were not just skilled, but highly creative and talented. She needed to set these ambitious people, who were champing at the bit to make a difference, in a place where they were free to imagine, to create and to pursue their own ministries as God led.

With the backing of Hope for New York, Yvonne empowered them to dream big and do something great. Any newly created ministry, after passing a vetting process, would receive marketing help, fundraising, prayer and guidance. Suddenly, new ministries began to spring up, reaching beyond Manhattan and into the boroughs of New York City.

Soon, Hope for New York began to be a movement where people were finding and stepping in to their design as they met the needs of the city and their calling from God.

In just a few years, Yvonne had gone from someone without a direction to the one giving direction as she led one of the most effective ministries in New York City. But things were just getting started.

Within the PCA denomination, calls started to come in, and suddenly, Yvonne’s know-how of starting a sustainable model began to be something that others wanted to know more about. Between speaking at events, observing ministry models around the country and helping other cities start their own “Hope For” ministries, she was racking up the miles, each one solidifying in her heart that God had moved mightily the day her job in New York City fell apart.

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During the last 25 years, churches in Los Angeles, Charlotte, Chattanooga, Nashville, San Francisco and many more cities have begun their own “Hope For” ministries, using Yvonne’s New York model to inform their own. As Yvonne tells it, the “Hope For” model is built on four key components:

1. Contextualizing your effort means learning well the specific needs and challenges of your community, as well as the strengths and capabilities of your ministry personnel.

2. To be “capacity builders” is to go alongside existing ministries to make them stronger wherever the strengths of your ministry personnel are a match.

3. Mobilizing volunteers requires creating a unified force in the community that can meet needs as well as introduce non-Christians to the Christians around them.

4. Applying for 501(c)(3) status allows the ministry to support the vision of the church without being subject to its financial ebb and flow.

Yvonne, now the chief operating officer of Hope for Miami, looks back on that time in Dallas when she was on the phone with the New York company that promised a new beginning—and realizes God’s hand was in the entire process. He was the one calling all along.

Reach Yvonne Sawyer at HopeForMiami.org.

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