An unlikely town. A passionate group of people. One heart to make a lasting difference in a dying community.
In 2010, Forbes magazine came out with an article entitled "Fastest Dying Cities in America". On that list was Middletown Ohio, the childhood home of Scott Lewis. The article cited many reasons for Middletown making this list, such as the increasing level of poverty in the city. For most, this article would simply have been an interesting read for a subway ride or over a cup of coffee. But this article came as a calling of sorts to Scott. A call to live a life that would be an answer to this article that projected the death of the city that he loved.
Scott dreamed of starting a seminary institution, knowing that the life changing presence of Jesus would be the only thing that would bring lasting change in the area. But when he finally found a location that would be perfect to house the seminary institution that they had been working to develop for sometime, Scott says that God began to pull at his heart and stir unsettling questions inside him as he looked at the growing needs in the community around him. He said he began to ask himself, "Why are we pouring all of our time, resources, and assets into this church plant in northern Cincinnati while our own community is suffering?" The infrastructures downtown were dilapidated. The streets were in disarray. A large portion of the population had lost their sense of belonging and community. Scott said he knew it was time to roll up his sleeves and do something about it.
Scott and his father, Larry, along with several willing others, decided to buy buildings downtown and renovate them in order to help reinvigorate the area and encourage businesses to come downtown. Scott and his wife, Jeri, are also establishing Kingswell in one of these buildings, a ministry designed to be a conduit and pipeline to supply strong, Christian leaders to the declining church and reinvigorate it to have a more missional imagination, in order to make true and lasting impact in the city and area communities.
Kingswell's mission is to nurture and cultivate missional leaders and community in the areas between Cincinnati and Dayton. They execute this mission by training leaders through learning communities, then offering these leaders the opportunity to experiment by cultivating missional communities in unchartered contexts (i.e., their neighborhoods, local coffee shops, pubs, community centers, new church plants - you name it - a place in their context).
When asked where the name Kingswell originated from, they answered, "Our dream is for Kingswell to exhibit the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit for his people (c.f., Jn 4:10-14; 7:38) for the empowerment of being sent on mission to make disciples. We view our learning and missional communities to be like 'wells' where the refreshing presence of the King is experienced and where people are sent forward in mission as a result. This imagery of the King's well offers our learning community a promising identity that conveys a vision of our servant-leaders being conditioned by God's presence for the purpose of quenching the thirst of the broken."
Scott says, "We live in a time of accelerated change in North America, evidenced by increased immigration, rapid technological advances, globalization, and the decline of Christian influence in culture. These changes are causing the Church in North America to re-evaluate its mission to the world. In our opinion, God is simply waking His people to the realization that we do not exist for the purpose of only maintaining our church structures, but we exist to partner with God on a mission of reconciling our neighborhoods, cities, and communities to Christ. With this purpose, Kingswell seeks to breathe life into a difficult situation today. Statistics show that 80-85% of churches are plateauing or in decline. With this concern, we help followers of Jesus develop the skills, knowledge, and spiritual formation necessary to lead missionally by making disciples within one’s context of leadership."
With this heart, Kingswell, in partnership with Forge Middletown has pressed forward, looking to see true change in their city, community, and context.
And they have seen just that.
Scott's wife, Jeri, began a "Ladies Night Out" event that has grown tremendously, bringing community and empowerment to a diverse group of local women.
Kingswell has raised up a passionate group of leaders, who daily live and operate in different contexts, bringing about change in the places to which they are called. Parks are being restored. The streets are being cleaned. Businesses are opening. Drug dealers and church members are coming together. And most of all, people are experiencing the transformative power of Jesus Christ.
So maybe Forbes only sees a dying city when they look at Middletown Ohio. But Scott and Jeri see so much more. Maybe Middletown was dying. But through willing hands and open hearts, new life is being breathed into this city.
Middletown has a heartbeat after all.