6 Stones leads churches in transforming communities

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U.S. | CHURCH

6 Stones leads churches in transforming communities

04/03/2017

John Meador experienced "a grief, a heartbreak ... soul-searching, a time of prayer and fasting" when he learned about a woman who had no one to help her after an apartment fire, Christian Telegraph reports according to Baptist Press.

The church Meador leads, First Baptist in Euless, Texas, was emerging from millions of dollars in debt and was focused on missions ventures worldwide. Though the church had begun exploring what they could do to help their local community, news of an apartment fire at a complex adjoining the church campus was the last straw.

"It became apparent that we really needed to pay more attention to our Jerusalem," Scott Sheppard told Baptist Press, in reference to a biblical term for one's community. Meador, president of the SBC Pastors' Conference in 2016, tasked Sheppard, who was serving on the church staff at the time, with finding a way to help the woman who had lost everything, as well as others like her.

What emerged from that challenge was a ministry called 6 Stones which has merged the nonprofit, public and private sectors to transform parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

Since it began in 2008, 6 Stones has repaired more than 500 homes, donated school supplies to more than 26,000 students, provided Christmas gifts for more than 22,000 children, logged nearly 270,000 volunteer hours and invested $9 million in local communities, according to a 2016 year-end report.

Sheppard, executive director of 6 Stones, a name based on the church's retirement of a $6-million-plus debt over 28 months prior to launching its community outreach, recounted how eager First Baptist Euless was to start the ministry.

"They were so moved, so excited about the possibility of investing in their Jerusalem that we went from realizing the need to the church voting and launching a nonprofit in less than 120 days," Sheppard said.

"The congregation was so inspired to do something locally. They do stuff all over the world, but we had forgotten in many respects Jerusalem and the needs that they had. That's really what precipitated it," he said.

Dallas-Fort Worth is among the top destinations for relocation in the world, Sheppard said, noting that people from other countries arrive in New York, Los Angles or Chicago and realize there are no jobs, and then they turn to Texas, which he said has produced twice as many jobs in the past decade as the rest of the U.S. combined.

"So they're coming for work, but that puts a strain on your school system and your city and all the other social service agencies," Sheppard said. "I think that's what brings the receptivity now for the church to step into some of these arenas because they need the help and they want to collaborate."

One of the first ways 6 Stones got involved was to partner with the city of Euless -- with the help of federal housing grants -- to revitalize deteriorating homes.

Gary McKamie, a former Euless city manager, described the initiative at a Catalyst of Hope forum in February in nearby Bedford, when a panel explained how churches can replicate the 6 Stones model.

"It was kind of unusual for us to be approached at the city by someone asking, 'What can we do for you?'" McKamie said. "... At the time, property values were falling. We had all sorts of needs.... We had a growing group of people that didn't have decent roofs over their heads."

Gene Buinger, a former superintendent of the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district, said more than 50 percent of children in the area today come from homes at the federal poverty level or below, and more than 70 languages of the world are spoken in homes throughout the district.

When 6 Stones asked Buinger how they could help the school system, he had "a whole laundry list of things that they could do with us."

Among those projects have been Operation Back 2 School, providing students with school supplies, and Night of Hope, a Christmas experience for those in need.

Sheppard said the city transformation movement is growing as churches across the nation are realizing they must engage with their local communities, but 6 Stones is unique because they've "been able to bridge the gap to the other sectors, whether it's the city, school district, corporate or even collaborating with other nonprofits."

With collaboration across sectors, "you usually get more done," he said, than if a church alone tries to transform a community. About 60 churches from various denominations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are part of the 6 Stones coalition.

Corporations want to get involved and supply the resources, Sheppard said, because "it's good business to do good right now." He noted a new campaign by State Farm Insurance called Neighborhood of Good, which connects consumers to charitable opportunities in their towns.

As churches are catching on to the city transformation movement, Sheppard said they're the most poised to help "because of our faith, because of our gearing -- Christ said to serve. If you can bring the Christians into this, that's really where the power is."

6 Stones is intentional about sharing the Gospel alongside the good works, and the salvation stories are abundant.

"At the Night of Hope, we work with the school district to identify the kids, we go in and raise the funds and volunteers from all those sectors, and at every one of those parties -- 20 of them on 20 school campuses -- the Gospel is shared to every one of those at that Christmas program, and we've seen as many as 500-600 kids and parents pray to receive Christ during those four nights in December," Sheppard told BP.

"We've seen homeowners that we've worked with in revitalization -- because we start to bless them and they want to hear what we have to say. One of our largest sponsors is a car dealer who gives about $100,000 a year to us as an organization. I was able to lead one of their executives to faith in Christ over a hamburger one day because he wanted to know, 'Why do you all do this?'" Sheppard said.

A man named Marcus was homeless after wrestling with drugs and other bad decisions, and now he knows Jesus and volunteers in the 6 Stones community garden, helping feed people after knowing true hunger himself. Another man, a retired veteran, had a simple Gospel conversation with Sheppard on a loading dock one night, and he has become a key volunteer.

"It's not just those in poverty, but it can be the executive at the corporation that needs to know because they are spiritually bankrupt just like anybody else may be financially bankrupt," Sheppard said of those 6 Stones reaches.

God may be challenging the church to get outside the walls and work alongside other sectors so communities can see Christ in action, Sheppard said. Too often, the world sees the church as irrelevant to the community at large, he said, recounting a conversation he had with a police detective.

The detective told him, "We see the crime, we see the pain, we see the dysfunction, and we wonder, 'What in the world are you guys thinking as you fly all over the world and do all these great things with all these other people but you don't help us in your own backyard?'"

But as the detective saw what 6 Stones was doing in Dallas-Fort Worth, he told Sheppard, "When you start doing things like this and you start working with us across all these sectors, you might be relevant to our community."

Sheppard told BP, "We're the largest Southern Baptist church in northeast Tarrant County, and he saw us as irrelevant. So that's how, unfortunately, most of our secular entities see the church.

"It's time to go be relevant."

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