Drop in the Ocean: Economic Development in the City

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One of the reasons why startups, social entrepreneurship, economic development, community development, and church planting are so exciting in small towns is their impact is more noticeably felt. One startup … one non-profit … one new church can make an enormous difference. Not only that, but without overstating its importance … but that one startup could influence an entire community. It could even tip the scales towards revitalization, growth, and renewal. That’s no small feat.

But what do you do if you live in a city? Not only that, but a larger one?

Then the conversation shifts to scale. While in my last article I wrote about the impact of one such startup (Microsoft) and how it altered the course of the city of Seattle that probably won’t happen to me or you in what we start. I’m not saying you won’t start something that grows to that scale and impact, but probably not. But then the optimist in me says at the same time you actually could! So how do we think about startups, social entrepreneurship, economic development, community development, and church planting in the city? Again, scale.

For example, I grew up in a town of 2,400 people. The neighborhood I live in here in Portland has 3,700 people. Sometimes when we thinking of starting something … whether a new church or business or non-profit we talk in terms of impacting or reaching all of our city. Rather than starting with such a wide scope how about start in your immediate neighborhood? This may be simplistic to say, but there’s literally a lifetime of work, ministry, and development work that could be done in my neighborhood alone. It’s no different than the other communities I have listed on our Strategic Communities page on our website. Oakridge, Oregon (3,205) is smaller than my neighborhood. Ajo, Arizona (3,705) is the same size as my neighborhood. It’s about scale.

When we scale things down in the city to a hyper local geographic catchment then all of a sudden it makes things doable and practical. Again, we’d think nothing of someone moving into a community like Oakridge or Ajo and spending a lifetime there knowing they won’t scratch the surface of all the possibilities. The same can be said of my neighborhood. The good news with starting hyper local is that there’s always the possibility of growth, scaling up, and extending our reach. But we need to start somewhere.

In Portland we talk a lot about quadrants of the city … NE, SE, NW, etc. For example, according to one website, SE Portland alone has 150,000 residents. That’s overwhelming. I hear new church plants talk about focusing on a whole quadrant. Not only is that a lot of people but geographically that’s quite a large area. Plus culturally there are all sorts of different pockets in SE Portland that differ greatly from one another. Inner SE is night and day different than outer SE. So why not start with one neighborhood and go from there?

The good news is that we’re not the only ones in the city engaged in this kind of work and ministry (even though many planters tend to operate like they are and that so much depends on them). This is where we get to simply be who God made us to be, love our community for who lives there, and get to know it so intimately that we know precisely what we need to start, where, when, and how.

While we may be but a drop in the ocean … we’re still a drop. You’re needed. We all are. We’re in this together.


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Written by Sean Benesh

Director of Intrepid

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