By John Mayer
City Vision, like most organizations, has a number of influences and key events that led to its formation. Many streams of different experiences and thought poured into my life and ended up being key DNA pieces of the puzzle that became City Vision.
One key influence on the formation of the ministry City Vision was the fact that I worked in the Phillips Neighborhood in south Minneapolis from 1982-1997. I worked at US Bank in the Phillips Neighborhood which has become the most diverse neighborhood in America with over 100 different languages spoken there. I worked in this neighborhood when it was just starting to transition in its diversity. The crime rate was also extremely high in the Phillips Neighborhood during this time and the Neighborhood was nicknamed “Murderapolis” when the New York Times wrote an article about the neighborhood stating that it had a higher murder rate per capita than NYC at the time. In fact, I was robbed six times while working at this bank. This neighborhood also saw the effects of White Fright, White Flight. In 1988 I coined the term glocal to describe the reality of the diversity of the neighborhood (global + local = glocal). Thus, these factors influenced my ministry thinking and was an influence on the formation of City Vision.
Another influence was my seminary studies at Bethel Seminary for my Master’s degree from 1987-1991. I was a Missions/Evangelism major and I took my studies seriously and I asked a lot of questions of my professors, making them earn their money. I asked them about reaching the world. No ideas. I asked them about reaching America. No ideas given. Then I thought I’d ask them about how to reach the Twin Cities since it is a smaller city. Still no ideas. Then I asked them about who lives in our city. No ideas and they directed me to talk to others in ministry at churches and non-profits and I called them all and they all had no clue how to reach our city and even who lived in our city, and did not even know how many churches we had in the Twin Cities area. Many guessed, but no one really had the facts to back it up and the guessing range was quite wide. So I thought to myself that we need to understand the baseline of where we are first in order to know who to reachout to and how to reachout and where we needed new churches and ministries. At this time, I also saw that no one had a macro strategy to reach the whole city. I began to dream about this and discuss with my classmates of the need to create a ministry that would focus on city reaching, be strategic and have a citywide macro focus, conduct Christian research, have a cross-cultural glocal (global + local =glocal) emphasis, and have an emphasis for churches and ministries to partner together across geographical, denominational, and ethnic lines. Back in 1988 I also saw the need for a neutral place for pastors/leaders to gather and talk to one another and a catalytic place that would focus on a macro-based city reaching strategy. This then was the birth idea for the ministry of City Vision. At Bethel Seminary I also learned about E-2 cross-cultural evangelism as missions. This was a new concept to me and I thought only missionaries overseas were in fact missionaries. But I learned that we all are called to reach out to people wherever we are at (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth). This validated my personal success in local cross-cultural E-2 missions. In seminary I also studied church planting, missions/evangelism, and church growth. In fact, our church planting class actually helped start a new church. At Bethel I was also exposed in my studies to the Discipling A Whole Nation (DAWN) concept of saturation church planting with the need for a church for every 500-1,000 people and the research and mobilization pieces of that strategy. All these influences affected the DNA of City Vision.
The next important event in the genesis of City Vision was that I decided that no one was going to research the city and collect and organize and interpret all the data because pastors/leaders didn’t want to; didn’t know how; or didn’t have time. I decided that it needed to be done and that I could do it to create this baseline of needed information about what was happening in the Twin Cities. So from 1988 to 1995 I researched the Twin Cities ethnic groups, cult/occult groups, world religion worship sites, and finally all the churches. I did this in my spare time looking through many sources and slowly created a database of information.
Another influence on the creation of City Vision was an internship I did at my home church of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie from 1988-1990 while I was in seminary. I did a series of demographic research projects for Wooddale during this time about the church and their ministry area. I also did a series of church planting demographic reports for Wooddale that led to several churches being planted. These experiences gave me practical experiences that led to real churches being planted and helped. This also affected my ministry vision. Another key element I learned while at Wooddale that became part of the DNA of City Vision was their Kingdom thinking. They helped start several churches for other denominations. This has never purposely happened in history. Wooddale also thought in a church multiplication strategy through church planting movements rather than just single church plants. This also became part of the DNA of City Vision. I also learned from being a part of Wooddale since 1986 as my home church about working with International Students. I was on the Wooddale International Student Ministries Team at Wooddale from 1993-1995 and these experiences also impacted my glocal DNA for City Vision. Wooddale also taught me to think outside the box and try new things and be innovative and risk taking for the Kingdom. Also at Wooddale I learned leadership and administrative skills working with and running the College and Singles Ministries at Wooddale. I got practical real life experience planning events and running classes and teaching them also. In 1988 I took a spiritual gifts class at Wooddale and I learned that my spiritual gifts were evangelism, teaching, and administration. This helped me focus and hone much of my ministry work by understanding and using my spiritual gifts. Wooddale also taught me the value of doing things for God with excellence which also became a cornerstone concept in City Vision.
Another key DNA ingredient of City Vision’s formation was my experience in the Indonesian Christian Fellowship Minnesota (ICF) Bible study group that I was a part of from 1989-1999. I started attending ICF group in 1989 after interviewing the four members for my first Missions class paper in seminary. I chose to write on the unreached people group of International Students and they all attended my home church, Wooddale and so I interviewed them and they also invited me to attend the ICF Bible study group. I kept coming to the group and became a leader in the group and saw how strategic it was to reachout to International students. I helped them plan long-term and used my administrative, evangelism, and teaching spiritual gifts in the group. The group continued to grow early and we trained many leaders as the group grew to over 50 people averaging every week. Again, I learned much about glocal, event planning, teaching/training, connecting it to the local church, evangelism, and strategic long-term planning. This was valuable E-2 missions experience that also became important glocal DNA for City Vision.
Another key DNA influence on the origin of City Vision was exposure to the spiritual mapping research done by George Otis, Jr. and his Sentinel group. I first came into contact with his work in 1993 and this again validated my research work on the Twin Cities area as useful for ministry.
In 1994, I was exposed to another key ministry that influenced the DNA of City Vision, partnerships. I first heard Phill Butler of InterDev (Now Vision Synergy) speak at my home church, Wooddale on the topics of strategic partnerships. InterDev’s strategic model was to get churches/missions organizations to work together in partnership in a city/region to reach a specific people group. I thought this was a great concept and I was surprised to learn from him that he had never applied his ideas to US glocal people groups. So I thought this ministry strategy could also become part of City Vision someday.
Another key DNA experience that also influenced City Vision’s origin was when I became exposed to Dr. Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God book in 1995. This had the idea of the Blackaby Principle which is go and see where God is going and moving and then go where God is going and moving. This DNA later became the Identify and Connect pieces of City Vision. The seeing where God is going and moving was the research/information piece and the connecting piece was to be done through the partnerships model of Phill Butler an InterDev.
Finally beginning in 1992 I was urged by several of my friends to start a ministry. My friends Eric Baurle, Rinto Dasuki, Ongky Tejayadi, Jon Madson, Duane Gabrielson, Denice Dull, Peter Fredrickson, and Paul Fredrickson all spoke to me about this separately and urged me forward in this endeavor. So I began to read books about starting a ministry and reading other business and marketing books. I hadn’t wanted to start my own ministry because I assumed that this ministry model for city reaching already existed. So I spent 1992-1995 researching other ministries and applying to work for them. But I realized that nothing existed that integrated all the key elements I saw as necessary to reach a city. I also wasn’t hired by any to work for them. I wrote some proposals to start a new ministry as parts of other existing churches, denominations, and ministries and they all liked the ideas I proposed but none of them had the vision to start what I saw as necessary to reach our city. So my friends urged me to start my own ministry. I held one focus group in both 1994 and 1995 and invited them and other friends and pastors to attend. Those focus groups helped me shape and refine the ideas I presented to them. I finally decided that I would synthesize my learning from above and integrate it into a new formed ministry. I also discussed my ideas to form a new ministry with four of my pastors at my home church, Wooddale Church, at this time and they all gave me helpful and encouraging feedback and critique. I talked to Pastors Leith Anderson, Fred McCormick, Joel Johnson, and Ken Travilla. Pastor Anderson told me I was an innovator and ahead of most people’s thinking and I should pioneer something new even though it would be difficult because no one has the vision to do what I want and he and others had seen the helpful work I’d done at Wooddale and in ICF and that if God was telling me to start something new to help the Church reachout and grow then I should start it.
I would base this new ministry formation along three major synthesized elements of the military, business, and ministry models taking the best applicable pieces of each model to form City Vision. I would create a ministry that was evangelically neutral and could get people together to network ideas and partnerships. Research, information gathering, and mapping would also become key elements. The glocal piece was there from the beginning as well. The idea of the strategic ministry center as a local ministry catalytic place was a core element. Strategy, mobilization, and training were also key parts of the core of City Vision’s DNA. I saw City Vision as a Christian Pentagon gathering CIA type church intelligence and providing both micro and satellite macro views of the Twin Cities mission field and mission force (the Church). I also envisioned City Vision as a kind of local Christian think tank and information clearing house and resource hub. Reaching the entire city (city reaching) was also part of the core idea. No one called it city reaching in those days but the same concept was in my mind. I never heard of city reaching until later when I read Jack Dennison’s book by that title and spent time with Jack in 1999-2005. From 1993-1995 I also prayed about starting this new ministry and even had some interesting personal spiritual warfare experiences at this time that others confirmed to me was actually a good sign that I was onto something significant for the Kingdom.
Synthesizing and writing all this down into words and a plan became the origin of City Vision. I started putting this all together after the last focus group in May 1995 and I officially began City Vision on October 29, 1995.