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Christians Creating Community in Apartment Complexes

Phil Cooke and Jonathan Bock write that in 1997, Stan Dobbs left a career in the computer industry and packed up for seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. While also working on staff at a church, he recognized the incredible numbers of singles and young couples living in apartments who reported feeling lonely and unable to connect with other people. It's one of the great ironies of our culture: multiple families packed into a single building who don't know or rarely come in contact with each other. "Fifty percent of the population of Dallas lives in apartments," Dobbs said, "and yet the existing outreach strategies have been terribly ineffective in reaching apartment residents."

Stan had an unusual idea. In 2000, he launched an organization called Apartment Life in downtown Fort Worth with the goal of penetrating the walls of massive apartment complexes with the message of the gospel. He created a concept he called Community Activities and Resident Services (CARES) teams. A team consists of either a married couple or two singles of the same gender, and they are given a free apartment for working eighty hours per month to assist the apartment complex management in building community and serving residents.

Stan's job is to sell the apartment owner on the idea that giving a free apartment to a Christian couple will be good for his or her bottom line. His goal is to convince the owner that in exchange for free rent, the couple's job is to create a better and more vibrant sense of community within the complex. To accomplish that, they become what some might call "chaplains" for the residents. They visit the sick, hold community events, set up basketball leagues, and throw pool parties—all designed to bring people together.

And it's worked. To date, there are more than one hundred of these teams working to bring a stronger sense of community to people who would otherwise never know their next-door neighbor. And since these team members are Christian couples, spiritual conversations naturally happen. Even though Apartment Life is driven by a Christian commitment, the apartment owners couldn't be more thrilled.

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