The Power of WITH

March 9, 2022 in Uncategorized

With God, With Each Other, and With Our Community


By Elizabeth Burgess


For me, with is a word that I often breeze past while reading; “I’d like my sandwich with mayo” “Wear a shirt with a collar” “She lives with her family” “I agree with you” “I’m with you”

But lately, the word with has taken on a whole new meaning for me. It lets me know that I’m not alone. It’s a word that comforts me, gives me hope and brings me encouragement—especially when things are hard. And right now, in facing things such as coming out of a pandemic, healing from racial turmoil and threats of war, I find comfort, hope and encouragement in the with.


God WITH us

In a very tangible form through the life of Jesus, God came to physically be with us. Emmanuel, God with us. His presence now takes on an even more intimate form through the Holy Spirit living within us. I am personally comforted knowing God is with me in every situation and moment every day.


Us WITH one another

I can’t take on our community’s challenges alone and no one church or organization can either. Collectively, with each other, I find the hope that we can. I know we can make a greater impact together. I look at the way in which Jesus lived and taught and I find hope that united with one another we can love and care for our neighbors.


WITH the community

Every community should be flourishing and thriving, but things aren’t as they should be. My sin and selfishness, our sin and selfishness, has led to brokenness. And just as God didn’t leave us there, he joined us. As I embrace this good news, I’m encouraged to do the same with my brothers and sisters. To love, suffer and be with each other.

Our community has the potential to be a place where children, families and neighbors could be connected to each other and supported. Imagine a community where every individual has access to the right relationships and resources to truly flourish.


We have an opportunity to take the first step to do just that. We invite you to join us at this year’s Serve The City Conference for a time to be with God, connect with one another as we learn ways we can be with our community as we seek the welfare of our city.

Transforming our community – An interview with Manny Rosario

February 22, 2022 in Uncategorized

This month, our CEO, Dawn Haynes, sat down with the Executive Director of Vision Orlando, Manny Rosario, to discuss the role of the church in transforming our Central Florida community.

Check out a few of Manny’s responses below, or watch the full interview here.


1. What do you think the church in Orlando can do to help our community be the best it can be?

“If we could bring heaven down to earth, what would that look like? Every community in Orlando having exactly what they need — thriving families, thriving communities, children getting the right education… no racism, no injustice, and everyone would be treated equally.”


2. Why is the unity of the church so important when it comes to being who we are called to be?

“If we [as churches] can all align shoulder to shoulder and show the world that we can all agree on one thing — that we’re going to love God, but we’re going to love you as well — then we don’t need to compete against each other, we can complement each other.”



3. What are some things churches can do to get more involved in loving and caring for our community?

In this clip, Manny shares about two upcoming events in Central Florida that will equip church leaders to get more involved in loving and caring for our community. Learn more about these two gatherings on our events page.


Interested in seeing what collaboration with other churches in Central Florida could look like? We can help! Fill out our contact form to get in touch with our team. 

A Hopeful Way Forward | Mid/Post-Pandemic Thoughts for Church Leaders (Part 2)

February 15, 2022 in Uncategorized

By Andrew Smith

In part one of this blog post, I talked about the opportunity this pandemic season might provide us as leaders in the church to re-think some of how we do what we do. Might the forced shifts we’ve experienced help us make some changes in order to rediscover the fullness of the mission God has called us to – a mission that should be truly transforming our community in tangible ways. Could God use this painful season to prune away some of the old to make room for new expressions of life and wholeness both in the church and in our community?

Unfortunately, if the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that many in our community are not experiencing the holistic wellbeing that God desires for all of us, whether that’s physical, emotional, relational, or in terms of justice. But these very real needs, that the pandemic in many ways exacerbated, did not begin with the spread of the virus and won’t end just because infection rates go down.

The need is large, and often overwhelming. But if this is the invitation and call of God for his people, how do we take this on?


First, we have to acknowledge that we can’t do it by ourselves. 

No single church, no matter how big, can solve the challenges that our community and neighbors face alone. This probably isn’t a new thought. In fact, it’s often a source of frustration. (“What can we really do anyway?”) 

But what if we weren’t working alone? 

What if we began to see “the church” in our community instead of “our church” and “that other church down the road.” Often our efforts as churches to care for those around us have been limited, or even duplicated, because we only thought in terms of what our church was doing – “What problem can we tackle?” But what if we started asking a better question: What could we accomplish together that we can’t accomplish alone?

This is the kind of unity that Jesus prayed for the church, not just that we would share some core beliefs (mind and spirit) but that we would share his purpose of bringing real, tangible hope to our community too.


Second, we need to change how we serve. 

For too long we have done what’s easy or what benefits our church members rather than what brings lasting change and empowers others. (Sorry if that’s blunt.) 

I speak from experience. In my years of ministry, I’ve led almost every kind of serving event you can think of: food distribution, backpack drives, Christmas gifts, Thanksgiving meals, meals for homeless, house repair, summer day camps for kids, neighborhood cleanup, and more. And often after those events I would wonder… Are the people we served really better off? Will their lives be different a year from now? Did they get a better sense of their inherent worth as God’s creation because of our interaction or did they feel like a need that someone else had to meet? 

These are the types of questions I believe we need to begin to ask if we are really going to take on God’s call to love our neighbors well. But to answer those questions well, we will need to take the posture of learning. We need to learn from others who understand why health and wholeness aren’t happening in our community. (spoiler alert: often that involves hearing from the people actually experiencing it.) And we need to learn new models that shift the focus back toward those we are serving – models that empower, dignify, and build the kinds of mutual relationships that Jesus modeled in his ministry.


Third, now is the time.

I actually don’t think there is a better time to step more fully into God’s call to be about the wellbeing of our community than now. And I know, this may all feel like one more thing to pile on to our already overflowing ministry plates – plates that we may already feel we can’t manage in this season. 

But the needs have never been clearer. And culturally, our community needs to see the goodness and love of God in action as much or more than they hear it from our churches. There’s no better way to help people rediscover the beauty of God and his church than for us to lean into the tangible expression of his love for others.

And what’s amazing is that this doesn’t have to be another program on your to-do list. 

It’s actually about unleashing the passion and calling of every person in the church, to express God’s love in everyday ways based on how God has wired them.  

And it’s about us taking on this mission as one church in our community – doing together what we can’t do alone. It can be as simple as loving our literal neighbors. Imagine if every church member in our community just intentionally got to know and cared for 2 of their neighbors. Or, learning to work in collaboration, imagine if each church in our community discovered and lived i its unique role in a larger movement of the church to take on some of the most challenging issues our community faces. 

What better way to show our community that the good news really is good news than recapturing the truly transformative mission God has called us to – to care deeply, tangibly for those around us? And there is no better time to start than now.


Interested in seeing what collaboration with other leaders could look like? We can help! Fill out our contact form to get in touch or schedule a call directly with our team to learn more about our engagement opportunities. 

We Can’t Go Back (And that’s OK) | Mid/Post-Pandemic Thoughts for Church Leaders (Part 1)

February 15, 2022 in Uncategorized

By Andrew Smith

Take a minute with me and close your eyes. Think back to life before the Covid-19. What was life like? What did work look like? How busy was your schedule? What was your church doing in this season?

If you’re anything like me, Covid completely shifted life well beyond the initial “lock-down” phase. And yes, many things have at least started to move back toward that idea of “normal” we keep hearing about, but in many ways, life is different. 

But the question I keep asking myself is, “Is different bad?” 

Or even, “Is there something good and corrective about this experience?”

Because while none of us ever hope for seasons of chaos, pain, and upheaval like we’ve all been in, these are often the times in life that God uses to lead us to new insight and a willingness to try new things. Maybe this is the “beauty in the ashes” of this Pandemic reality: the invitation to re-think, let some unnecessary things fall away, and look for unexpected places where new life can grow. And this is an invitation for us both personally and for the churches we serve.


We can’t go back even if we tried.

As church leaders, on top of the forced shifts we’ve had to make, the reality is, many people aren’t coming back to church “as it was.” I meet with pastors on a regular basis and many are seeing 50% or less of their former congregation returning to in-person worship and programs. And most are coming to terms with the fact that this isn’t a temporary reality.

While it’s easy to blame loss in attendance on people that just weren’t as committed or whose faith wasn’t as deep (along with a biblical reference to wheat and chaff), I believe those explanations are too simplistic. The truth is, this isn’t a new trend. The pandemic just dramatically accelerated what has already been happening in churches for the past 20 years. As church leaders, we have to seriously consider that people are increasingly not finding the same value in the way we are practicing faith, or at least the way we “do church” here in the United States – that for many, something seems to be missing. And I don’t believe the solution is to just do better or try harder; to have better worship, deeper Bible studies, or more attractive programs. It’s about recapturing that organic, externally focused faith that makes it an undeniable, positive, tangible reality not just in our lives but in the lives of everyone around us.


Pandemic Re-thinking.

One of the biggest shifts in the church during this pandemic is that it has forced us outside of our traditional walls and programs. Whether it’s working from home, virtual worship, or literally gathering outdoors; we haven’t been able to do things the way we’ve always done them. And while these changes inevitably bring anxiety and/or frustration on an organizational level (How will we make budget? How do we continue to offer programs? How do we keep people connected and involved?), I’ve continued to wonder if the inability to keep things going isn’t also an opportunity to ask some questions we rarely get to ask as leaders. Questions like:

How much should our programs and energy be focused on people being in church vs. just empowering people to be the church in their everyday lives?

What programs are truly central to our church and the mission we’re trying to accomplish?

Is the organizational form of church (that has been so disrupted by the pandemic) really the expression of the movement of God that caught your heart when you chose to get into ministry?

Do we need to “go back” to spending so much of our time, energy and resources (including buildings) on our own internal church family or are there ways we can repurpose those resources to love our neighbors better – and bring about God’s wellbeing in the neighborhoods we live in?


A new/old way forward?

Ironically, I think this pandemic reality, that can feel like it has torn us and our churches down, may also be the invitation to a new (or actually an old) way forward. Maybe some of what’s been torn down, much like pruning in gardening, can make way for new growth. Maybe this is the perfect season to be thinking about how we might rethink our models in order to recapture (or restore) the fullness of the mission God has given us. The mission of the church is far more than just gathering people in a building and teaching them about God and (in my opinion) should look far more more like an outside of the walls movement or everyday people participating in bringing about lasting, tangible wellbeing for everyone, in every aspect of life, all over our community. Is this not the biblical idea of Shalom? It’s the image of the in-breaking “kingdom” – that uncontrollable, bottom up, ever-growing movement that provides shelter, rest, and hope for all – that God has been calling his people to embody from the beginning. 

And if the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that many in our community are not experiencing this holistic wellbeing. None of us can ignore the need we’ve seen during this season: people who’ve lost jobs, lost loved ones, struggled financially, wrestled with loneliness or struggled with mental health issues. And that’s not even to mention the racial injustice we’re still wrestling to come to terms with. But most of these things didn’t start with the pandemic, and the need won’t end if and when the pandemic subsides.

So, what would it look like to take the invitation that this season brings? In the midst of the pain and loss, to reconsider what God might be calling (or re-calling) us to as the church moving forward. 

The truth: It will cost us something. The Jesus pattern has always been death before new life. We will have to be willing to lay some things down, things that may seem central to our identity as leaders or as a church – maybe let go of some of the programs we’ve always done, services we’ve always had, that nagging need for numbers and financial stability in order to become a more full expression of God’s goodness out in our community. But what better could we offer our community as the church in this time? What better could we be right now than the healing, relationship-building, empowering, hope-giving people God has called us to be? I believe the “church,” in its fullest expression, is needed more now than possibly at any other time in our lives. That’s the invitation we have. And if we’re willing to take it, I believe we as leaders might trade some of our own pain, frustration, and burnout for renewed hope, purpose, and peace in the work we have been called to do.


Are you a church leader in Central Florida wrestling with these questions? We’d love to talk to you! Fill out our contact form to get in touch.

Check out part two to this blog series to hear why I am hopeful about the way forward and the three steps I believe we need to take as church leaders.

3 Resources that Challenge Us to Serve Well

January 24, 2022 in Uncategorized

By Megan Ginn

Growing up, my family was highly involved in church. I learned from a young age that caring for others was a part of being a Christian—volunteering on serve days, annual mission trips, donating old belongings.

By the time I was a teenager these were routine for me…it was what a good Christian does. However, I wondered if it was more about what we did or the impact we had. Was following Jesus more about me serving or less people hurting?

I sincerely believe churches care about the impact we have, but that changing lives is a lot more complicated than we are often prepared for. So, what does it look like for churches (and other faith-based organizations) to truly have an impact when serving others?

Here are three resources that show we change lives when we:



For nonprofits and churches, our metric for success can often be the quality of programs we offer, number of attendees, and our ability to raise funds. And yet, Rev. Mike Mather celebrates his church doing less. For him success isn’t measured by the amount of activities but by lives being changed. In this article, read an excerpt from Rev. Mike Mather’s book about how listening to the community changed not only the lives of his neighbors, but the lives in his church as well.

“Now the script was flipped; we were asking for a different story. And different stories emerged. Slowly at first, but then they began pouring out.”


As their neighborhood was changing, First Presbyterian Church of San Antonio realized holistically loving their neighbors required different knowledge and skills than they had. Through collaborative partnerships with nonprofits, they began to tackle the root causes of what kept their neighbors in poverty and homelessness. In this article by the Chalmers Center, find out more about how nonprofit and church collaboration leads to greater impact.

“I think there was an attitude that Christians should just give food away. I argue that true compassion is caring about someone’s future”


While many people start with identifying needs, Jay Van Groningen starts with finding the gifts. What if transformation could begin when we pay attention to the resources, talents, and gifts already present? What if instead of asking what’s wrong, we asked about the dreams others have? Jay Van Groningen, a leading ABCD (asset based community development) expert and current Board Secretary at Great Lakes Urban shares in this podcast how churches can use those principles to change lives.

“If I can’t tap into someone’s dream, I have nothing to work with. So, I need to take whatever time it takes to discover what is a realistic dream.”


While stories of success like these are inspiring, they can also be intimidating. Yet each person started with just a small step.

Want to know how your church can be a part of changing lives? Reach out to us on our Contact page to start a conversation.

5 ways CRN is working with others to transform communities across Central Florida in 2022

January 24, 2022 in Uncategorized

By Dawn Haynes

What would our community look like if the kingdom of God really took shape here in Central Florida? This is the question that continues to drive us at CRN.



But here is what we know. No one church or organization can effect community transformation on its own. But together we can! Imagine the impact we could have if we knew each other and worked together.

The foundation for collective impact such as this is working “with” others, whether that’s our strategic partners, church and non-profit leaders, or those we seek to serve. It is the model Jesus lived and taught – that we would be united in the way we love and care for those around us.  

But this isn’t just theory. As we begin the new year, here is how we’re focusing on working “with” others to see lives change and our community transformed:

  1. Convening kingdom-minded/externally-focused church leaders and teams interested in social impact issues: starting with a conference-style kick-off early in the year (March) and then purpose-focused groups interested in addressing specific issues through  learning, sharing ideas and implementing solutions
  2. Connecting churches addressing social impact issues with each other, with subject matter experts,  non-profits etc to support creation and implementation of best practice solutions
  3. Curriculum offering a portfolio of new and revised learning opportunities in both the way we approach serving others and best practices for social impact ministries – all based on Christ’s teaching and ministry
  4. Collaborating with other organizations focused on the same social impact issue  multiplies and magnifies the impact by accelerating the contribution and outcomes of the individual participants to truly effect change
  5. Championing the work, outcomes and impact of our partners to celebrate and share the success of best-practice models broadly across our community


We hope you will join with us as we continue to move forward together – information on the kick-off Conference coming soon!!

A Thrill of Hope: Encouragement for the Weary

December 16, 2021 in Uncategorized

By Megan Ginn



As the Research and Development Manager for CRN, I get the privilege to learn from leaders all over the country on how churches can serve and engage with their community. From commercial kitchens in church basements to hosting block parties in your neighborhood, churches are doing some amazing things.

However, even with all of the energizing conversations I’ve had, it’s still been a tough year. If you’re anything like me, since June you had some faint hope that stringing Christmas lights around your living room and the slightly cooler weather in Florida would boost your spirits after such a hard two years. Except now it’s just as tiresome except I’m drinking coffee from a festive mug.

Here are some resources if you’re also struggling this holiday season. For those who are fatigued from caring for others when it feels like you’re pouring from an empty bucket, or to those who are walking with others in the midst of uncertainty. These are not resources to mask hurt or bring you back to naive Christmas bliss, but a reminder that Advent provides hope for those in the midst of injustice and longing.


How to Do Advent When Nothing Seems Worth Celebrating by Chris Pappalardo

Oftentimes we can forget that Jesus was born into a community experiencing injustice and suffering. Not only that, but it felt like God was silent in the midst of it. This Christianity Today article helps us discover how to have hope when we are struggling to find joy and to know that Advent can be an invitation to not be okay.

“Without this sense of real longing, Christmas offers no sense of real hope. And if we already sense longing for healing and lament over injustice, we are that much closer to the spirit of Advent than we first thought.”


The Paradox of Advent by Nilwona Nowlin

In our reading of Christ’s birth, we can often glance over Anna the prophetess. However, in a time of waiting, loneliness, or longing, she shines as an example of expectant faith. Follow along on CCDA’s Advent reflections to be encouraged by the women who were a pivotal part of Jesus’ birth.

“The paradox of Advent is that I lift my eyes to the heavens in anticipation, but I also kneel down to worship and adore Emmanuel, God with us.”


O Holy Night by Kings Kaleidoscope

While I typically hold off on listening to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, I decided this song doesn’t count. The lyrics are rich with meaning and whenever I’m overwhelmed this is what I need to hear. Not only that “in His name, all oppression will cease,” but that in the waiting – in the already-and-not-yet that we live in – he sees us and is with us.

“In all our trials born to be our friend; He knows our need, To our weakness is no stranger! Behold your King!”

Doing Community Together – A Neighboring Story by Elizabeth Burgess

December 8, 2021 in Uncategorized

By Elizabeth Burgess


My name is Elizabeth Burgess, and I’m the Network Support Manager at CRN. I am passionate about supporting the church to do transformative work in our community. I believe and have experienced first-hand that building relationships is one of the primary ways to do that.

I’ve been learning an important lesson that I’ve missed out on for many years—life is truly better in community with others. It hasn’t been until recently that I personally realized this and it was through a relationship with my neighbors that lead me to this discovery.

You see, I’m naturally a problem solver. I think I was wired to be this way or I have grown over the years to believe that was my role in society. When I see a need, I like to fix it. When I hear of a problem, I like to find a way to solve it. I think stems from my desire to help others in need and because of different factors at play, I have often been granted the opportunity to play that part.

But you see, I’ve been missing out. I’ve only been experiencing one half of the picture. Each time I help someone, there is someone on the receiving end that I have completely overlooked and I have often missed all of the richness, fullness, beauty and gifts that their relationship can offer me.

My husband and I learned of a neighbor who was having surgery and needed to have their driveway pressure washed. My husband volunteered to pressure wash their driveway for him during this time of need. Now for most of my life, the story would usually end there. We would show up, pressure wash and save the day. End of story. We were the good neighbor helping a neighbor in a time of need.

But all that changed when our neighbor wanted to gift us with something in return. Not monetary payment, but he wanted to share his gifts and passions with our family by taking my children on a ride around the neighborhood in his antique car that he had restored. He wanted to share his passion with us. And instead of turning him down and saying no, we are here to help you, we said yes. And something amazing happened. We entered into a relationship with him that is so rich and beautiful. The ride around the neighborhood brought so much joy to our boys. We didn’t see ourselves as the heroes or as the only people with something to give, we started a friendship with him where we see the value in him, and we each have something to share with each other. As a result, our relationship with each other has been so much more joy-filled, rich and deeper because we are in community together.

Loving our neighbors – An interview with Dr. Joel Hunter

December 2, 2021 in Uncategorized

By Andrew Smith

My name is Andrew Smith and I’m excited to be the new Director of Faith Partnerships here at CRN. My passion, whether in my many years as a pastor or now having come on staff with CRN, has always been to see the church live more fully into its mission to care deeply for our community and see the wellbeing that God desires for our world spread to every area of our city. Yes, it’s a big vision, but I’m grateful to be part of an organization working to bring churches together for this purpose and see what God can do in and through our work together.

One of the truly fun things I’ve been able to do in my new role is meet with pastors all over the city to hear about the work their churches are already doing to engage and care for their communities and hear the dreams they have for how this work could grow and expand. It’s been amazing to discover all of the ways God is already working and leading to bring transformation and healing across Central Florida.

As we wrap up this current year — still figuring out what “new normal” looks like in the wake of Covid and looking forward to some of the exciting opportunities a new year will bring — I had the chance to sit down with our founder, Dr. Joel Hunter to talk about vision; the importance of the church prioritizing Jesus’ call to “love our neighbors” and the potential of the church as a whole being united in this work here in Central Florida. I was able to ask him about his own journey of discovering how God’s call to “love our neighbor” fits into the mission of the church, some of his thoughts on why this is so important in our current reality and the potential this might have on our city.

I was struck, as I’m guessing you will be, by Dr. Hunters transparency in openly admitting some of the ways he (and the church as a whole) has often emphasized personal love for God to the neglect of caring for those outside the walls of our churches and our need to recover balance in that dual mission. He also gave great insight into specific ways we might live more deeply into the kinds of relationships that have the potential to bring healing and transformation, as well as the greater potential of the church collaborating around this work all across the city. I hope you enjoy our conversation and find it inspirational to the ways that God is calling you to love your own neighbors! And as always, if you are interested in your church networking with others in this work, feel free to reach out.


Andrew Smith, Director of Faith Partnerships

A Letter From Our CEO, Dawn Haynes

November 18, 2021 in Uncategorized


As the Holidays approach, we’d like to wish you all joy and blessings for the season!

Like many of you, the reality of the past 18 months forced changes in what we were able to do physically as an organization. However, it also provided us the valuable opportunity to step back, evaluate, and continue our ongoing research, learning and growth as an organization.

In 2020, we began to re-examine some of the really hard questions, including, “If so many of us as churches and non profits are giving so much time, energy, and resources, why are the numbers of people in crisis continuing to rise here in Central Florida – even before COVID?” Asking these tough questions through a different lens led us to seek a deeper understanding of how truly transformative work that moves the needle on our most pressing social issues happens (through authentic, mutual relationships and in collaboration that honors the value everyone brings to the table), as well as to identify where and how this work was being done by the Church that showed progress and promise in other parts of the country.

CRN has always believed that the Church is uniquely called and positioned to bring about the health and wellbeing of every member of our community when we work together. And this season of learning has given increased clarity to the shape of this collective work; that we are called to not only “love our neighbor as ourselves”, but also to follow the relational model of Jesus in doing this work. Therefore, as we move into the new year, this posture will be foundational for our collective work, aimed at bringing the church together in unity, as Jesus desired, to express his love – “so the world will know”.

The last year has seen new collaborative partnerships for CRN, in Central Florida, across the country and internationally. These strategic relationships with organizations that have led the way in transformative church collaboration in cities across the U.S. and across the world have given further shape to our role as a neutral convener here in Central Florida, bringing pastors and leaders together to learn, collaborate and take action for two specific purposes:

-to help the Church continue to grow in learning best-practices for how we care for our community

-to foster opportunities (within a proven model) for churches to come together in ‘unity of purpose’ networks to make real -impact on the wellbeing of our city and region’s residents

We are excited about what, in many ways, is the culmination of the four years so far of our work, the potential that 2022 holds for greater collaboration, and for the numerous ways in which God will move in Central Florida, through the Church, so that everyone in our community is thriving and experiencing the wholeness and wellbeing God desires.

We invite you to join us!



Dawn Haynes