A group of Christian lay and ministry leaders and pastors met for several years in the mid-1990s to discuss how the community of churches and para-church ministries in Columbus could affect deep and sustainable change in the neediest areas of our city. After lengthy discussions we adopted a set of values that we believed an undertaking like this would require, including high character leadership, demonstrating compassion to the needy, collaboration within the Christian community, partnerships between the Christian community and other religious and secular groups, research-based programs, measurable outcomes, and the development of future generations of leaders.
Mission Columbus was formed as an advisory team in 2000 when Tyler Flynn left his position as the pastor of a local church to serve Mission Columbus in a full-time capacity. Our efforts were focused in three areas—providing capacity-building resources to local congregations and ministries, facilitating local relational networks of pastors and leaders, and developing programs that addressed pressing needs in disadvantaged areas of Columbus. We believed that by working in concert with multiple churches and ministries as well as our secular counterparts, we could initiate “compassion programs” that would affect positive, sustainable change among the neediest people in our city, starting in Franklinton.
The Mission Columbus team came to understand that the issues in poverty-bound communities like Franklinton are complex and interrelated and that a multiplicity of needs must be addressed in order for sustainable change to take place. In 2004 Scott Arnold, Executive Director of Central Ohio Youth for Christ, and two other Mission Columbus team members developed the Holistic Community Ministry Model, which measures the health of a community in six domains—spiritual and moral, economic, education, health and safety, civic engagement, and interpersonal relationships. The model includes markers that indicate whether a community is thriving, stable, vulnerable, or in crisis in each of these areas.
In 2005 Mission Columbus developed a community survey using the Holistic Model as a framework for the questions and conducted a random survey of more than 400 households in Franklinton. The survey results provided a quantification of both the strengths and the needs of the community.
In the fall of 2004 Mission Columbus launched a tutoring program at Avondale Elementary School in response to an acute need for improved reading skills in a high percentage of Franklinton elementary school students. The program was a partnership between the school, Mission Columbus, and the Franklinton Ministerial Association. It grew from twenty-five volunteers in the first year to 125 volunteers serving in all three Franklinton elementary schools in 2010-2011. Volunteers came from Franklinton, Columbus suburbs, Mount Carmel College of Nursing, and the Columbus business community. Each year the students in the program improved on average one grade level in their reading proficiency scores. The president of a major commercial development company in Columbus wrote,
This is the fourth year of my involvement with this program and together with nine of my employees who also participate, we have found both the progress of the students and the rewards to us to be remarkable. We have seen significant progress in their reading skills but most importantly we have seen an excitement and interest in reading that can only come from the individual attention and care that this program provides.
In 2011 Mission Columbus joined in partnership with Central Ohio Youth for Christ to form the Columbus Tutoring Initiative (CTI). Since then the CTI expanded to three suburban school districts. It partnered with approximately 35 churches and companies and enlisted more than 300 volunteers to serve 22 elementary schools, including 8 Columbus city schools. Each year the reading proficiency of the students in the program showed measurable improvement almost without exception.
Mission Columbus developed another literacy initiative in 2008 in partnership with the Franklinton Branch Library. The Franklinton Ready4K pre-kindergarten literacy program was an eight-month program that trained parents to teach their pre-school children the necessary literacy skills to be ready to read when they enter kindergarten. In addition, the program provided learning activities for the children, backpacks with literacy materials, and a new children’s book each month.
Since its inception in 2000 Mission Columbus has developed and moderated numerous fellowship groups for local pastors and ministry leaders. These groups make it possible for the leaders to get to know and trust each other and, in some cases, to work together in reaching their communities.
Recognizing the necessity of sustained funding for effective community-building, Mission Columbus provided leadership for the design and development of a local foundation for higher net-worth individuals. A foundation design committee was formed in 2003, and an implementation committee in 2005. The foundation would cast a vision to potential donors for re-investing in local Christian community-building organizations that have a track record of excellence. As a result, the Columbus Stewardship Foundation (CSF) was formed in 2005. In 2011 the CSF became the Columbus Stewardship Fellowship and the National Christian Foundation of Ohio, which extended the model of efficacious giving to communities throughout the state.
Mission Columbus expanded its organizational capacity in 2010 by incorporating as a 501c3 non-profit and by forming two programming engines—Mission Columbus Institute and Mission Columbus Initiatives. Mission Columbus Institute focused on community research, the study of best practices, capacity-building for local Christian organizations, and leadership development. Mission Columbus Initiatives developed collaborative programs in high-need communities using.
In 2011 Mission Columbus and the Turner Foundation (Springfield, OH) entered into a partnership with the Mission Increase Foundation, a national organization that provides capacity-building training for Christian non-profit organizations. Mission Increase offers training in seventeen areas of organizational governance with the possibility of matching grants for qualifying organizations. The objective is to strengthen both ministries and donors, to build better collaborations among community ministries, and to expand their donor bases. Wally Martinson, the former executive director of the Nehemiah Foundation in Springfield, was chosen as the central Ohio area director. As a result of this partnership, Mission Increase-Central Ohio was launched in Springfield (July 2011) and in Columbus (September 2011). Since 2011 MI-Central Ohio has served 170 local Columbus ministries, providing more than 1000 hours of consulting and workshop training for over 500 individuals.
In the summer of 2014, it was proposed that we build a website to connect volunteers with service opportunities in central Ohio churches and para-church ministries. A year later Mission Columbus launched an interactive website called The Caleb Network. The website provides the means for laypeople to create and post a personal profile and their area of service desired, a template for churches and Christian organizations to use in posting their service opportunities, and the means for potential volunteers and churches/Christian ministries to connect with each other.
Updated February 2017