What is Vision San Diego about?


Vision San Diego (VSD) is a partnership between several faith-based entities, The North American Mission Board, SBC, Alpharetta, Georgia (www.namb.net). The California Southern Baptist Convention, Fresno, California (www.csbc.com). The San Diego Southern Baptist Association, San Diego, California (www.SanDiegoBaptists.com). Along with other evangelical churches that participated in one or more of the Vision San Diego sponsored activities.

Although the current phase of Vision San Diego, funded largely by the North American Mission Board, SBC, which began in January 2007, will be completed in December 2009, the work to sustain its impact on churches and communities will continue. Beyond 2009, and no longer funded by the North American Mission Board, the phase II version of VSD will move toward a more inclusive transformation effort partnering with all three sectors of San Diego County. The three sectors include the public sector, mostly city and county governments, the private sector, including mostly private business and the non-profit sector, including churches and faith-based organizations. Phase II of VSD is a long-range effort purposed to bring societal and spiritual transformation to the San Diego region and beyond.

Transformation can be defined many ways, Eric Swanson, a coach of city reaching efforts explains transformation as follows, “What keeps God “awake at night” is probably not how many people will be in church Sunday or howmuch money a church takes in but rather “How many people went to bed hungry?”1 “How many suffering people have no one to comfort them?” “How many children are alone in the streets?” When a church’s scorecard is more like God’s scorecardtransformation has begun.”2

The brief history of Strategic Focus Cities (SFC) goes back 10 years when the North American Mission Boardwas struggling with how to reach the North American Continent with a population that was rapidly growing in major cities. The primary purpose of the North American Mission Board, of the Southern Baptist Convention, is to use a cooperative budget, funded by local Southern Baptist Churches, to assist its state and local partners in evangelism, church planting, and strategic missionary deployment in order to spiritually impact North America.

The Strategic Cities Initiatives Team was formed in the year 2000 to develop and implement a strategy to more effectively plant new churches, strengthen existing churches, and create partnership opportunities that would attractmission groups to come to San Diego and assist in the strategic impact on San Diego.

The first two cities, Chicago and Phoenix, implemented their strategic plans in 2000. Las Vegas and Boston in 2001, Seattle and Philadelphia in 2002, Miami in 2003-2004, and New York City in 2004-2005, Cleveland, Ohio, in 2006- 2007, Baltimore, Maryland and San Diego, California, are the last cities to receive funding for the SFC partnership strategy.

“The most dramatic shift in American life this century is urbanization. Between 1940 and 1990, metro areas inthe United States grew exponentially - some areas more than 500 percent. Today, some 57 percent of us live in or near major cities. This trend will continue. By 2020, thetop 20 cities in the U.S. will grow by 30 to 70 percent.

In recognition of the changing face of the cities, the North American Mission Board and its partners in 1998 began focusing their attention on some of the major metropolitan areas in North America. The purpose? To increase evangelism and church planting exponentially.” 3

The efforts in San Diego began in 2007 (the discovery phase), which was to exegete (meaning an attempt to interpret and understand) the city of San Diego, and identify its influencers and key points of need. It was an attempt to see where God has been at work in the city. It also attempted to connect those who had a sense of vision andcalling to bring spiritual and societal change. In the process a white paper was prepared by the Executive Director, Mike Carlisle to clarify roles, goals, deliverables and future plans. Since then, much has been learned and much has changed. For example, instead of a planned transition year in 2010, the project will be ending in 2009. This hasreduced the time to achieve the earlier stated goals. In spite of the shorter time frame, at the end of 2009 the project succeeded in several areas.

  1. The overall baptisms, of the two hundred churches in the San Diego Southern Baptist Association (SDSBA) were increased 23.5 percent from Jan 2007 through October 2009. This is comparedto the previous three-year period.
  2. New Churches. Fifty-four new church starts (SDSBA) were begun in the same three years from 2007through 2009 and are still operating
  3. More than 9,000 volunteers came to San Diego to partner with local church efforts in evangelism and new church starting.

There are several key insights that have emerged from the VSD phase I.

  1. Prayer networks are vital to move under God’s leadership (Over 26,000 intercessors were mobilizedto pray for Vision San Diego).
  2. Connecting and engaging the gatekeepers or “permission-givers” in a city is
  3. Work in harmony with local groups and networks of churches, relying on them as valued, respected colleagues.
  4. The most vital factor in strengthening churches is to get it externally focused. This dramatically increases theworkforce in the church and the community.

As the VSD project wraps up in 2009, VSD, and local churches have extended an invitation, to the Luis Palau Association to come to San Diego and host a San Diego CityFest (www.SanDiegoCityfest.com). The invitation has been extended and accepted by the Luis Palau Association. The planned date for the San Diego CityFest is scheduled for September, 2010. The timing of the San Diego CityFest, and the Season of Service, stands on the shoulders of the preparation work of Vision San Diego and its “Faith in Action” projects – which are very similar to the Season of Service (SOS). Hundreds of churches will be invited to work together in 2010 in a “Season of Service”. The Luis Palau Association (LPA) will assist the churches in San Diego to work together in a Season ofService for five months preceding the fall CityFest event. The CityFest web site will be a clearinghouse for projects, led and managed by churches, all over the county (http://SanDiegoCityFest.com). It is estimated that the SOS will bring more than 600 churches together to partner with businesses and local governments to impact five areas of need in San Diego. This includes, Homelessness, Schools, Youth, Hunger and Military (one out of six persons in San Diego are connected to the military).

Mike Carlisle Reflects on the Vision San Diego Journey

As I reflect on my own spiritual journey, I come to this chapter of my life having previous experience in business, pastoring, organizational leadership, vision casting and education. However, Vision San Diego represents a new journey. This new journey requires skills to work as a convener to bring about regional transformation. The onlypower involved is that which comes from serving others. There is no positional power for this task – only personal power that is built on trusted relationship, built around selfless service.

As I reflect on most of my experience in previous roles, it has been largely a leadership model that organizes agendas and casts vision. While it has served well in places where I used positional power, whether it was in business or pastoring a church, the role that I find myself in now requires a new type of leadership – the kind ofleadership that is not built on positional power but on personal power. It is what Robert Linthicum in his book, “Transforming Power” calls relational power. Linthicum says, “If you want to build relational power in your church, mission organization or community, where do you begin? You begin with just one person. You begin by meeting with that person sharing about the things that matter most to you and encouraging that person to share with you what matters are of greatest concern to him or her. You begin with individual meetings.”4 This idea is not new, but the importance of it to my current leadership role is pivotal. Collaborative impact depends on the power of trusted networks. Perhaps even more insightful, I am learning how important it is not to expect others to be asteward of my vision, but rather I become a steward of their vision and find the common way that working together empowers their vision.

Future Direction of San Diego City Transformation


Creating a trusted network of others who share concerns for the common good of their communities requires research that taps into the greatest needs of a city or region. Bringing leaders together that share a common interest in the same needs is a good starting point for unity and partnerships. As my colleague, Sam Williams, and I haveresearched and connected with street intelligence it points to a common concern for five areas in San Diego County. This includes, homelessness, schools, youth, military and hunger. The 2010 Season of Service, as part of the Luis Palau Festival, called San Diego CityFest, will focus on connecting with local governments, churches, and businesses that share a common concern in these five areas. Working together across sectors in the entire county of San Diego will create the opportunity to forge trusted networks that can live far beyond the coming year. The intention is to serve this growing network with resources and projects that will demonstrate the power of volunteers. Volunteers that love and care about their communities and their neighbors. For the faith-based partners this is a way to do as Jesus taughtwhen he said, “… love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy. And here is the second: Love others as well as you love yourself. There is no other commandment that ranks with these.” [Mark 12:30-31 [The Message]].

The exciting thing that happens, when people begin to serve their neighbors, is the neighbors want to know “why” they are serving them. This question creates the moment wherein a natural and normal conversation and witness of ones personal faith can be shared in a very non-threatening manner. The other aspect of serving a community together is it invites people from all walks of life and backgrounds to work together. This new contactsource is also a way for new relationships of trust to occur. At then end of the Season of Service there will be a two-day celebration that those who have served together can then come and celebrate the good things that have occurred. The CityFest is another opportunity for believers to invite their non-faith friends to experience the Gospel and see others who, like them, are ordinary people but who have found a new power in their faith experience.

The big question that comes up about an organized harvest event is, “What happens when it is over?” Two local San Diego leaders, Mike Carlisle and Sam Williams, sense a need to create a strategy that can bring about an ongoing coalition of churches, government leaders and business leaders to continue the transformative processes in San Diego. Mike and Sam are preparing for a coaching role in San Diego. A rough draft plan is being prepared that would invite senior leaders of churches, government and business, from each region, into an envisioning process that would focus on looking for signs of hope in the region. The signs of hope will lead to clusters, or small groups, of leaders that share the same interests. Then a five-year strategy will be designed with them, to implement a long-term impact. It will begin in the fall of 2010 with the launch of “City RenaissanceCollaborative”, a strategy of Vision San Diego, Phase II.

In Ray Bakke and Jon Sharpe’s book, “Street Signs”, there is a very practical and helpful chapter devoted to doing consultations with cities.5 In this book, twenty-four practical assumptions are listed that will act as a guide for work in San Diego. For example, one of the twenty-four assumptions listed says, “The answers to the city’s needs are found in the city and do not need to be imported from the outside.”6 This has often been a problem for city campaignsby Para church and denominations that have a national presence. If the local leaders are not the ones that shape the solutions, most denomination programs only serve as short-term projects that soon end for lack of local support andeffectiveness. Another idea presented in the book is, “We do not start with the needs of the city but rather with the signs of hope.”7 This same process is one of San Diego’s strategies so that men and women of good faith and good will can find a common starting point to serve the city that they love, together. Henry Blackaby, best selling Christianauthor and speaker, famous for his work on “Experiencing God”8, has often been quoted, “Find out where God is atwork and join him”. This counterbalances what many are guilty of doing which is asking God to bless their work rather than joining Him and His work. This idea of “looking for signs of hope” is a good strategy to keep people on the same page together without getting side tracked on all the things that are wrong.

One of the main reasons, in my opinion and experience, that city transformation requires an intermediary type of organization, to convene those that would work together, is often due to busy demands among leaders, even in the church. Insecurity abounds in organizations, both faith-based, non-profit, government and corporate. Busy scheduleskeep leaders focused on the immediate needs rather than the overwhelming community needs – this is my observation of serving in ministry and organizations for over forty years. “We have a crisis of institutional quality not so much from depredations of ‘evil’ people as from sheer neglect by the ‘good” people.’” 9 One of the reasons thatGovernments rarely bring coalitions together for transformation, aside from political reasons, is, according to Greenleaf, “Governments rely too much on coercion and too little on persuasion, leadership, and example. Althoughthey render indispensible services, they too often impose upon society a bureaucracy that is oppressive andcorrupting”.10

Another excellent book, “Transforming Power”, presents the work of Robert Linthicum in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area. “The basic strategy that we are following to organize an area so large and so diverse is to divide it into geographical clusters.”11 It makes sense from a geographical perspective to work with clusters. It also makes sense to work with clusters of leaders in a city that have the same motivation and concern. In other words, one of the signs of hope in the envisioning team process might be the area of homelessness. Those on the envisioning teamthat share a high motivation about homelessness could be formed into a cluster that would shepherd and manage the ongoing work to sustain success. A “solution cluster” would be formed whenever there was clarity about a community need within the larger Envisioning team. By breaking down the work into manageable units (clusters) with proper span of control and realistic assignments that highly motivated volunteers can manage, the work has a better chance for succeeding. The coaching process then, can be focused on follow up, resourcing the team, working with dynamics of communication, leadership, measurement and staying on task.

The author, John Perkins, said, “As I spend time with young people in the U.S. and other parts of the West, I find a generation of Christian disciples with an increasingly postmodern outlook and set of expectations. This younger generation seems to be increasingly disenchanted with a faith that peaks on Sundays and wrestles the remainder of the week in a spiritual crawl space. As I have listened to young disciples, I sense that they do not want to attend church services that confuse worship and entertainment, joy and enjoy.”12

What will be the impact and deliverables on San Diego in one year, or five years, because of the efforts of Vision San Diego, Faith in Action, Season of Service, San Diego CityFest, The City Renaissance Collaborative and the convening efforts of Vision San Diego Phase II? These are questions that I am struggling to answer as I attempt to apply what I am learning. It is clear from the experience of the last three years that there is a desire among Church Leaders for unity and city transformation. Currently, over 200 hundred churches have committed to partner in the2010 San Diego Season of Service.

This hearty spirit of cooperation prevails in meetings called to organize community impact projects – it is an exciting time in San Diego!

San Diego, the second largest city in California, is a unique city isolated by Mexico on the South, Military Camp Pendleton on the North, Desert on the East and the Pacific Ocean on the West. “At first glance, a visitor to San Diego might suspect that there is a religious and/or churched culture, as one would undoubtedly see the marks ofChristendom by admiring the beautifully constructed Spanish-style architecture represented in church buildings scattered among many of San Diego’s neighborhoods and downtown corridor. However, a deeper analysis of the religious landscape would unveil a context of relativistic pluralism in many of the present religious traditions – a situation that has reduced the role of many churches to not much more than places to merely associate with one’s friends on the weekend while maintaining some form of liturgical expression. Some might even say, according to one professor at the University of San Diego, that religion has had little to do (or little impact) with the development of San Diego’s history. Of San Diego County’s more than 3 million people, more than half don’t claim to have ANY religious affiliation. Less than 170,000 people claim to be evangelicals. That’s less than 6 percent of the population.”13 This is a little less that the Evangelical Church attendance for Western States is 6.6 percent.14 The top 5 religious denominations in San Diego, in order of size, are Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Southern Baptists, and Presbyterian Church USA.15

As I look back at the previous three years – there are several things that stand out as building blocks for thenext phase.

Regional Planning

Underway, at this time, is a new Public Planning Process to determine the best course of action to prepare for future needs. “The 18 cities and county government are SANDAG, the San Diego Association of Governments. This public agency serves as the forum for regional decision-making. SANDAG builds consensus, makes strategic plans,obtains and allocates resources, plans, engineers and builds public transportation, and provides information on a broad range of topics pertinent to the region’s quality of life. SANDAG is governed by a Board of Directors composed of mayors, council members, and county supervisors from each of the region's 19 local governments (with two representatives each from the City of San Diego and the County of San Diego).

SANDAG Board and Policy Advisory Committee meetings provide the public forums and decision points for significant regional issues such as growth, transportation, environmental management, housing, open space, air quality, energy, fiscal management, economic development, and public safety. SANDAG Directors establish policies, adopt plans, allocate transportation funds, and develop programs for regional issues. Citizens, as well as representatives from community, civic, environmental, education, business, other special interest groups, and other agencies, are involved in the planning and approval process by participating in committees, as well as by attending workshops and public hearings.

The SANDAG agency-wide Public Participation Plan (PPP) defines the process for communicating with and obtaining input from the public concerning agency programs, projects, and program funding.16


Communications is a critical component of strategy and partnership. Effective communications is the primary vehicle through which potential partners are attracted to the city, and get projects by which they can engage. Finally, effectively communicating what God is accomplishing gives Him glory. It must be done with excellence at everylevel, and it has to serve the strategy. The multiple audiences of a campaign like Vision San Diego require a hefty communication strategy. These audiences include, local churches and their leaders, in San Diego, partnerships Mission Leaders and volunteers from across the United States, local governments and the general public in San DiegoCounty.


The idea that God has only one church in San Diego implies that he wants it to function as a body with each part working together for the overall good. When people see the church working together, across its many denominations, it is attractive and has a warmth and genuineness about it that is compelling. When the church works together in harmony the leaders of a city notice. The church is the largest single volunteer work force in the region. No politician can ignore the influence of the church when it is in unity and working together for the overall good of the community.


A city-reaching effort puts a great deal of strain on local churches and denominational entities. Put simply, itshard work! It also goes without saying that Satan isn’t sitting idly by while we attempt to invade his territory. As such, if there isn’t a pervasive culture of prayer within the city before we begin, our efforts will be under continual attack and threat because of the stress and strain inherent to the process. It is therefore imperative to engage bothlocal prayer intercessors, and the thousands outside of the city who continually pray for VISION SAN DIEGO, to seek God’s grace and protection. At the present time over 26,000 intercessors have been mobilized to pray for the work in San Diego. Intercessors are updated with San Diego prayer requests primarily through Focus, a twice-monthly e-newsletter featuring specific ways to pray for church planters, existing congregations, and volunteer efforts.


Connect and engage the gatekeepers or “permission-givers” in a city; every city domain has them. We were so excited when we first got to San Diego, so eager to have an immediate impact, that it would have been easy to charge ahead with our own plans and goals for the city. But we received some wise counsel early on to be mindful of all those who were already ministering, who had an even bigger stake in an effort to transform San Diego. We started seeking out gatekeepers in several areas of influence, including government, education, mentoring,collegiate ministry, and church life.

Looking back, we can see how God has opened doors since 2007, so that churches in San Diego are in a position, maybe now more than ever, to work together to reach out to our county. It has been critical to work in harmony with local associations and networks of churches as valued, respected colleagues.

Strengthening Churches

The most vital factor in strengthening a church is to get it externally focused; it creates a climate for growth and engagement. We have observed that it dramatically increases the workforce in the church and community. There’s no greater example of this in San Diego than Faith in Action and subsequent Faith in Action Xtreme efforts. We’ve heard from pastors around the county that many members of their congregations who are involved in service to the community now weren’t previously serving in the church. By providing new avenues for engagement in their communities, churches have given freedom to many people who don’t see a place for themselves as a Sunday School teacher or choir member. Members of this “new workforce” are excited to find ways they can impact their community that fit with the gifts and interests God’s given them. These are things that we have learned over the past three years– looking forward, only time will tell if we have set a good course, one that will remain.

Eric Swanson, in an unpublished paper, summarized the work of city transformation, “A Chinese proverb says, ‘The best time to plant a tree is ten years ago.’ But there is a corollary that is often left out. ‘The second best time to plant a tree is today.’ We may have not done what we could have done or should have done in the past but there is no time like today to begin. So what can we do? Here are six practical suggestions.

  1. Recognize that loving, serving and ministering to our communities—getting the Church outside the walls is something God is doing. He wants churches to be salt, light and leaven—agents of transformation that workvery well up close but not at all over distance. It is a wave we are riding not a wave we are causing. (As difficult as surfing is, it isfar easier to ride a wave than to cause a wave.)
  2. Understand that we cannot get different results from doing more or better of what we have done in the past. To create a different future, we need to think different, be different and do different.
  3. Learn all you can about your city. Become an expert in the history of your city and the domains that influence your city. You can’t love that which you do not
  4. Remember you are kingdom builders not social workers. Figure out new and effective ways to combine compassionate service with passionate evangelism. Good deeds and good will is no substitute for good news.
  5. This is a work of God who uses yielded people of faith, prayer and action. The world can only betransformed by those who themselves have been
  6. Get started today (or tomorrow if you are reading this at night). Pray and seek out like-minded, like-hearted people who want to change the world. Every movement of God starts with one passionate person who says ‘yes.’”17

When most people drive into a large city the see the blinking lights, sense the energy and the excitement, but when Jesus looked at a city he experienced a sense of compassion, he must have felt the weight of sin, injustice, and powerless of the hurting and downtrodden. “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” [Luke19:41 [NIV]].


1 I first heard this insightful statement from Reggie McNeal in September, 2006 in Atlanta

2 Eric Swanson, "To Transform a City," (Boulder, Colorado: 2007), 33.

3Howard, David, "Strategic Focus Cities", North American Mission Board. A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by theCooperative Program and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering®

©Copyright 2009 North American Mission Board, SBChttp://www.namb.net/site/c.9qKILUOzEpH/b.222475/k.78E7/Strategic_Focus_Cities.htm (accessed November 8, 2009).

4 Robert C. Linthicum, Transforming Power : Biblical Strategies for Making a Difference in Your Community (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

5 Raymond J. Bakke and Jon Sharpe, Street Signs : A New Direction in Urban Ministry

(Birmingham, Ala.: New Hope Publishers, 2006).

6 Ibid., 258.

7 Ibid., 260.

8 Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King, Experiencing God : Knowing and Doing the Will of God, Rev. & expanded. ed. (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008).

9 Robert K. Greenleaf and Larry C. Spears, Servant Leadership : A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, 25th anniversary ed. (New York: Paulist Press, 2002).

10 Ibid., 66.

11 Linthicum.

12 John B. Hayes, Sub-Merge (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 2006).

13 Travis Vaughn, "San Diego City Exegesis 2006," (San Diego: North American Mission Board, 2006). 13.

14 David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis : Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000Churches (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008).

15 Association of Religious Data Archives, "Metro Area Membership Report", ARDhttp://www.thearda.com/mapsReports/reports/metro/7320_2000_Adherents.asp (accessed November 14 2009).

16 SANDAG, "Sandag Public Participation Plan Draft", San Diego Association of Governments http://www.sandag.org/index.asp?subclassid=115&fuseaction=home.subclasshome (accessed November 14, 2009).

17 Swanson, 34.



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Blackaby, Henry T., and Claude V. King. Experiencing God : Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Rev. & expanded. ed. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2008.

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Greenleaf, Robert K., and Larry C. Spears. Servant Leadership : A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness. 25th anniversary ed. New York: Paulist Press, 2002.

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Olson, David T. The American Church in Crisis : Groundbreaking Research Based on a National Database of over 200,000 Churches. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2008.

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Vaughn, Travis. "San Diego City Exegesis 2006." 100. San Diego: North American Mission Board, 2006.

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