Business, church and community leaders will gather Thursday in Longview to learn what they can do together to solve problems facing the city.

“If we all started focusing on the same issues, can racial relations change? Can the poverty mindset change?” the Rev. Tim Ingram of HighRidge Church asked, citing two areas that likely will be identified in the Unite Leadership Conference scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Belcher Center at LeTourneau University. “What can we accomplish for our city if it doesn’t matter who gets credit for it?”

Organized by four local churches — HighRidge, New Covenant, Pathway and Church On Purpose — the Unite Leadership event had grown this past week to include a dozen participating churches and several local businesses. Designed as an annual event, the conference will seek first to identify the local riddles to solve as a community.

“They could range from health care issues to drug use,” said the Rev. Stephen Warnock of New Covenant. “But we know there’s things that require more than one church and one business to tackle. We just want to see what happens when we come together.”

Event organizers also have consulted with Longview Mayor Andy Mack, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, and nonprofit local groups such as Hiway 80 Rescue Mission and the House of Disciples homeless outreach.

“I think the effort going into the Unite Leadership conference is a refreshing, much-needed and welcomed endeavor,” Mack said in a text message to the News-Journal. “It excites me to see leaders from all areas of Longview unite along with the citizens in the community for a common goal. Whether we are discussing poverty, homelessness, equality, jobs or education, it all affects our city. I applaud this effort to make us stronger.”

Trio of presenters

Unite Leadership will be presented by Christian authors John Bevere and John Maxwell, the latter a New York Times bestselling author with books on leadership translated into more than 100 languages. Christian comic Mike Goodwin rounds out the trio and is no stranger to the Belcher Center stage after joining John Crist for a sold-out show in January.

Event organizer Douglas Case said tickets are going fast for the conference but were still available as of Thursday. He also said the conference is a kickoff to a year of events.

“Our goal is to bring change to East Texas by unifying community leaders and business leaders and church leaders,” he said. “The goal is to address the issues that are impacting our community and this area.”

He listed four elements driving organizers: a racial divide in Longview; poverty; division among churches; and the need to lower crime rates and increase business success. Case said the latter element arose from a recent New York Times article saying that Longview has missed out on “The Texas Miracle” that state politicians say staved off the 2008 recession and its aftershocks.

The conference will feature at least one surprise.

“We’ve already done something that we’re going to announce at the event that impacted 1,000 families in the area,” Case said. “That was over a $1.2 million impact. That’s just a couple of small churches. Imagine if we all came together.”

While the conference seeks business, faith and community leaders, Case said everyone is invited, because everyone has some leadership role to play.

“The target audience is pretty much everyone,” he said. “If you have influence over your family, church, community, if you are a husband or a wife, you’re called to be a leader.”

Ingram said the conference already is generating momentum and has his congregation eager to see what can be accomplished.

“The response has been overwhelming,” he said. “Most of the time it’s been, ‘Why hasn’t anybody done this? What took you so long?’” Ingram said.