he early seeds of Loving Houston were planted in the mid 1990s through the work and vision of Jim Herrington and his organization, Mission Houston. Mission Houston was a catalyst for convening pastors from across the city into prayer groups and also played an important role in the Houston Profile Project that surveyed the greater Houston area to develop an overview and analysis of its neighborhoods.
n the early 2000s, a conversation developed with the Luis Palau Association about conducting an evangelistic festival in the Houston area. It was determined that such a festival would only be worth the significant effort and expense if it included a service component. Using information from the Houston Profile Project and the pastor prayer groups, a leadership team was formed for the festival. The festival weekend in 2006 was a great success, gathering nearly 250,000 people in downtown Houston, as well as dozens of churches and several thousand volunteers in service projects throughout the city. After the close of the festival, a number of these service relationships continued, including those that connected churches with the public schools in their neighborhoods.
n 2013, the Southern Baptist Convention convened its national gathering in Houston. As hosts for the gathering, Houston’s Union Baptist Association organized a service blitz during the Convention that deployed 2,500 volunteers (many from non-Baptist congregations) into six under-resourced communities in Houston. They named this service blitz Loving Houston. UBA Executive Director, Tom Billings, and his leadership team then began dreaming about expanding Loving Houston to include the larger body of Christ in the city.
In late 2013, David Weekley convened several meetings with representatives from each of these three streams. As a result of these meetings, the group decided to provide Loving Houston with a neutral sponsor through the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation. They also decided to explore the possibility of surveying the outreach efforts of the 4,500 churches in the Greater Houston area. A meeting was arranged with Dr. Stephen Klineberg of Rice University’s Kinder Institute to discuss optimal survey strategies to inventory the kinds of outreach services being offered and which outreach activities were most impactful.
Dr. Klineberg listened politely before responding: “What you are proposing is extremely difficult and also very expensive. It is well documented that when adults mentor children in public schools, good things happen. Why don’t you save yourself a lot of time and money, forget the survey, and just do that?” With that advice, Loving Houston was reborn.
The advice and counsel from Kevin Palau of the Luis Palau Association has been woven through all of Loving Houston’s deliberations. In fact, the LPA has been a key leader in a similar outreach in Portland, Oregon, where nearly one-third of the public schools are now in a partnership with a local church.