In the 50s and 60s, the Benson neighborhood had a dozen thriving churches along its downtown Maple Street strip. However, Benson took a hit spiritually and culturally in the following decades—one of those reasons being “white flight.” Although the churches in Benson are still experiencing a spiritual struggle, culturally we are in the midst of a “Benson renaissance,” according to City Councilman Pete Festersen, elected in 2009. In 2015, Yahoo.com named Benson one of the newest hipster neighborhoods in the U.S. Benson’s Maple Street strip is being redeveloped with new restaurants, creative businesses, and apartments. Benson also has the most entertainment venues in Omaha behind the Old Market.
During a Citylight Omaha corporate prayer gathering at the end of 2014, the Citylight leaders sensed that God was leading to plant a new church in Omaha. There was a growing desire to plant neighborhood churches all over the city which would:
- make it easier for people to invite their friends to come to church with them, and
- have a local impact.
Therefore, on June 14, 2015, we kicked off our first Citylight Benson Church Core Team Gathering with 150 adults and 30 kids. We purchased our location, the spacious 27,000-square-foot Benson Presbyterian Church on June 16, 2015 and held our first worship gathering there on June 21, 2015. The core team met throughout the summer on Monday nights to renovate the building, on Tuesday nights to pray together, and on Sunday mornings to share breakfast and preach through our Core Values (Gospel, Spiritual Formation, Community, and Mission).
The CLB Core Team gathered with the vision of reaching 13,000 Benson residents for Christ. Our mission is to multiply disciples and churches, and to “Love God. Love Benson.” The initial focus areas which we set out to serve were people in the neighborhood, refugees, artists and musicians, high school students, and Rose Hill Elementary.
The Citylight Benson public launch was held on September 20, 2015. Within the first six months we saw over 90 people get involved in our church—including neighbors like Sue and Kimberly who work at Rose Hill Elementary across the street. In addition, we’ve raised up over 30 leaders to launch multiple City Groups in Benson and around Omaha. The most exciting news is this: within the first three years we have seen 50 people go public with their faith through baptism—including Lisa who lives next door to CLB.
Our dream of making a local impact in Benson is happening. We’ve received dozens of thank you notes from Rose Hill Elementary students and others for throwing block party, hosting Halloween events, running a clothing drive for refugees, and more. We’ve also connected with leaders, organizations, and local artists to find out how we can work for the common good of Benson. One of the greatest needs of the community which we identified was the need for more work and event space for local artists. We have met this need through the creation of Citylight Arts Project, which includes an art gallery/exhibition space as part of Benson First Friday. We have also hosted dance, yoga, and birthing classes for the community in our space.
Lastly, we’ve seen generosity radically increase as ownership of the mission has increased. Financial giving has increased 65% since we launched in June 2015. In addition, we were able to raise money for more church planting. We gifted Citylight Council Bluffs and Citylight Lincoln with $10,000 each toward their start-up costs. We are thankful for the grace of God, and we want to continue to steward that grace for His glory and the good of Benson!