In an era of mega churches and mega ministries, Jason Janz is something of an anomaly. He says that it is more important for him to go deep than to go big, and that’s exactly what he’s done in a diverse, low-income neighborhood in Denver, Colorado.
First, he planted a church, Providence Bible Church, which reflects his conviction that the church should be at the center of community and cultural change. The church intentionally made its home in a northeast Denver neighborhood that had problems with crime and poverty. And in the beginning, it did a lot of what Janz calls “drive-by Christian charity,” back-to-school backpacks for kids, turkeys at Thanksgiving, and Christmas gifts for kids.
But Janz noticed that the same people were coming back year after year. Also, Janz began talking with others who cared both about Scripture and the poor. His reading began to include books like Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett’s book “When Helping Hurts.”
And he began to ask the question: “Is it possible that what we and many other churches were doing was not only unhelpful, but actually contributing to a culture of dependency?”
He was also convicted by the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37). “The Good Samaritan invested extravagantly in one man,” Janz said. “He paid for his healthcare, his lodging, and he told the lodgekeeper to provide whatever the man needed in order to get restored to full health, and he would pay for it.”
Janz also noted that Jesus told the story of The Good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
“Scripture’s greatest commands are to love God and love our neighbor,” Janz said. “And we do a pretty good job of loving God. Walk into any Christian bookstore, and you’ll find a lot of books on loving God. But we’re not so good at loving our neighbor, even though we have a clear biblical command, and a clear biblical model.”
These insights caused Janz and Providence Bible Church to start CrossPurpose. It’s a ministry modeled after the Good Samaritan’s example of “investing extravagantly” in people. Janz describes CrossPurpose as “a six-month program that includes intensive job and life training designed to help participants leave poverty permanently.”
The program accepts only about 100 people a year, from more than 2000 who fill out initial applications. “We are not looking for people who need help,” Janz said. “We’re looking for people who want to change.” When CrossPurpose accepts people into the program, they are called Leaders. “We want them to take the lead in their journey out of poverty to self-sufficiency,” Janz said. Each person is also assigned an Ally, someone from the church or community who will become a part of the Leader’s social network. The program begins with basic life skills training, such as how to dress and the importance of showing up on time. Then comes career training. CrossPurpose will pay for a Leader to go to a local community college, or to participate in an on-line training program. Some of the larger companies in Denver have on-the-job training programs. CrossPurpose recruits these corporations as partners. The final stage of the program is to help the Leaders find “not just a job, but a career,” Janz said. “A minimum wage job might be a place to start, but won’t lift you out of poverty.”
All of this training takes time – for both the Leader and for CrossPurpose and its staff. And it is not cheap. Janz estimates that CrossPurpose invests, from start to finish, between $12- and $15-thousand in a Leader. This total includes the cost of training plus a small stipend CrossPurpose pays each Leader. But he says the church and the government are already investing far more than that in programs that do not create independence, but more dependency. In fact, Janz said, for every dollar CrossPurpose spends, it yields more than six dollars in wages earned, taxes paid by the wage earner, and social services no longer needed.
The program started small in 2014, with less than 20 people going through the program. None of these people were meaningfully employed. By the end of the program, all 19 Leaders were employed and off government assistance.
This year more than 100 people will go through CrossPurpose. Janz has a goal of lifting 1000 people out of poverty into self-sufficiency – and that just in the northeast Denver neighborhood around Providence Bible Church, which – by the way – is not a megachurch, but a church of about 250 people with a budget of about $400,000 per year. “Megachurches can do great things,” Janz said. “But this kind of work is not about being big, but about going deep. It’s about relationships. It’s about investing over a long period of time in a single person and a single community.
“If, by God’s grace, we can do that,” Janz said, “we’ll not only help a lot of people, we can transform a community.”
Editor’s Notes: Featuring innovative programs to help lift the poor out of poverty is a recurring theme of these “Restoring All Things” columns. To read the story of Tony Marciano and Charlotte Rescue Mission, click here. You can find the story of Jim Palmer of the Orange County Rescue Missions here
To get a copy of the book mentioned in the article above, Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett’s book “When Helping Hurts,” . To read more stories about CrossPurpose and the impact it has had on its neighbors in Denver, click here.
Jason Janz was a speaker at the fall residency of the Colson Fellows program. To learn more about the Colson Fellows program, click here.
This article is one in a series based on the ideas in the book Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan To Change The World Through Everyday People by Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet. To see all the articles in this series, click here. If you know of an individual or ministry that might make a good “Restoring All Things” profile, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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