Tim Anderson: Connecting Churches with Their Neighborhoods

Reimagining physical space for community flourishing
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Tim Anderson is the Executive Director of Ace in the City, in south Minneapolis. Ace in the City is a nonprofit that is rooted in neighborhood, community development, and figuring out how to love their neighbors well. Before discerning this calling in entrepreneurial ministry, Tim was a history teacher in the Twin Cities until the Great Recession in 2008. Tim quipped, “I don’t know who my wise counsel was, because you don’t start nonprofits in a great recession, when you have no idea how to run a nonprofit.” Around this time Tim also lost his best friend, whom he played basketball with. The basketball connection was where the first iteration of Ace in the City was created. In 2008 Tim started Ace Hoops, a basketball mentoring program with students from the Powderhorn community in Minneapolis.

Going where people are

After several years and through relationships built with kids in the community, Tim saw different realities of home and school life and began to wonder if Ace was supposed to remain a basketball mentoring program or if it was going to branch out into community development, which is ultimately the direction they decided to go. In 2012 they rebranded as Ace in the City. Some of the issues they wanted to address in their neighborhood were things like literacy, family readiness for school, and before and after school programming. The model was to be missionally focused, being where kids already were instead of assuming the ministry would be sought out by community members. 

Ace in the City worked in this way for several more years, but after a policy change they lost their space in the community. In searching for a new space, Tim wanted to find somewhere there was already missional alignment in the community, and being a faith-based organization, it made a lot of sense to align with churches. Since many churches sit mostly empty except on  Sundays, they began asking churches for partnership. They found that a lot of churches were, sadly, not ready for that kind of conversation. 

Place-making work

This dilemma of place and space led Tim to the third and current iteration of Ace in the City, focused on working with churches to bridge the gap between them and the needs of the neighborhood. “We were a youth development organization and there are 30 of them in our neighborhood. I loved the work we were doing at the time and also there were other ones that were competing for the same grant dollars that we were that had more years of history, bigger staff, et cetera. What was lacking, in our estimation, was a spirit of collaboration and trying to figure out how we can work together better. Spaces are an asset and they just haven’t been activated well, at least in our neighborhood. So we pivoted from direct service programming to more place making work.” 

Ace in the City now works as a connector between what space churches have and the needs of the neighborhood, helping churches live into that connection as best they can. “The most dangerous thing we can do is create amazing community space and then all these people come and the church isn’t healthy and ready for that work and we actually hurt more people.” Tim wants to help churches reimagine physical space for community flourishing and help churches live into that space well.

Center of Belonging

One project they have already done is called the Center of Belonging at Resurrection Minneapolis, a merged church between an aging Presbyterian congregation and a newer Covenant congregation. Ace in the City approached them with a proposal to renovate their 8,000 square foot basement, and asked for the ability to oversee what happens in the space with a 15 year lease. Through community listening the space became a home for a collaborative of 8 for-profit and nonprofit organizations. Included are a group for women coming out of addiction, a group working with single moms for job readiness, the neighborhood association, and a food shelf.

Tim loves that each church is different, has different space, and is in a different community so every opportunity to work with a new congregation provides new life, new energy, and new ideas. Sadly, Tim also finds that the church itself is often the biggest barrier to the work they are trying to do. Not many, including ones with closing dates, are ready or willing to infuse new imagination into their ministry or legacy. “Churches, like all of us, hold on very tightly to some things and as we wrap our own individual identities up in our churches it can be very tough to let go of the vision of the space or the use of the space.”

Ace in the City will also do the base consulting work for helping congregations reimagine their space, even if that doesn’t lead to direct partnerships. Tim said that for pastors and other church leaders in similar situations, those looking to potentially reimagine their physical space, it is important for church leaders not to get too far ahead of their congregations. “Sometimes the senior pastor is ready for the work, but the congregation is not.” What is important is to understand the whole pulse of the church and church dynamics. 

Ultimately, Tim said that the story they are trying to share with their communities and churches is that there is a way for us to work together, where all people feel loved, seen, and valued in every way. “We’ve seen that in Jesus, and we believe that is what the church can be,  we believe part of that work gets into how we use our space. That can be an instrument of hope, a lifeline for the community to address spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical wellness.”

Reflect

  • How connected is your congregation with the needs and activities in its surrounding neighborhood? 
  • Which spaces in your building are under-utilized? How might you re-imagine their use?

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Timothy Bowman

Timothy Bowman

Timothy Bowman is a Luther Seminary graduate, a co-pastor with his wife at Zion Lutheran Church in Stewartville, MN, and a member of the Seeds Project.

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