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Colorado Springs not a Christian ‘mecca’

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth of eight stories highlighting North American Mission Board missionaries as part of the 2010 Week of Prayer, March 7-14, and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, with a goal of $70 million to help support Southern Baptists’ 5,300 North American missionaries.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (BP)–What could be better than serving as a North American Mission Board missionary in picturesque Colorado Springs? After all, the city of 380,000 backs up to the base of snow-capped, 14,000-foot-tall Pikes Peak on the edge of the Rocky Mountains.

Money and Outside magazines have both deemed it No. 1 on the list of the best places to live in the United States. It’s perceived as a Christian “mecca” because so many evangelical Christian organizations are headquartered here, such as Focus on the Family, The Navigators, the International Bible Society and Young Life.

Colorado Springs is a military stronghold, the location of NORAD, the United States Air Force Academy, two Air Force bases and an Army base.

The 6,000-foot-high city is headquarters to the U.S. Olympic Committee, the U.S. Olympic Training Center and the national sports federations for Olympic bobsledding, fencing, figure skating, basketball, boxing, cycling, judo, hockey, swimming, shooting, triathlon, volleyball and wrestling.

The Colorado Springs area is also a vast wilderness of “lost” souls. Just ask Bill and Carol Lighty.

Bill, 53, serves as a NAMB national missionary and director of missions for the Pikes Peak Baptist Association, which includes about 50 Southern Baptist churches and church plants. In a metro area of more than 600,000, 83 percent — some 500,000 people — never darken the door of any church; Mormonism and Catholicism also are strongly entrenched in the Colorado Springs area.

“God really broke my heart over the lostness of the Pikes Peak region,” said Lighty, who — with his wife of 32 years — has worked in his current assignment two and a half years. He previously spent nearly 21 years as pastor of Chapel Hills Baptist Church in Colorado Springs. The Lightys have two grown daughters, Trisha and Ashley, and two granddaughters.

Lighty is one of about 5,300 missionaries in the United States, Canada and their territories supported by the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. He is among the North American Mission Board missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer, March 7-14. This year’s theme is “Live with Urgency: Share God’s Transforming Power.” The 2010 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering’s goal is $70 million, 100 percent of which benefits missionaries like Lighty.

In addition to Pikes Peak, another of Colorado Springs’ famous landmarks is the Garden of the Gods, so-called because when it was named in 1859, it was described as a “place fit for the assembling of the gods.” Lighty said this focus on the mythical gods — but not on the one true God — is symptomatic of many residents of the region.

“In a very real sense, Colorado Springs is not godless because the people here have a lot of gods they worship,” Lighty said. “Some worship nature and the mountains. Some worship skiing. Some worship the metaphysical. Spiritualism is a big element of our culture, and we have a strong Wiccan movement. Some worship their motorcycles. With five military installations here, many worship the military and the goal of getting promoted to the next rank.

“So our challenge is competing with all these other gods plus the mountains — where there’s something to do 12 months out of the year — in order to help people worship the one true God versus their multiple gods,” Lighty said.

In his job, Lighty wears the hats of a church planting strategist, a coach to pastors and a consultant to churches.

“I never saw myself getting out of the pastorate, but it’s been a wonderful change. I never would have thought of myself in this coaching role. I love helping men and women develop leadership skills and giftedness. Now I have the opportunity to impact the entire region, not just one church.

“I have now come to the realization that one church cannot reach the Pikes Peak region for the Kingdom of God,” Lighty said. “If one church could have, it would have been done 100 years ago. I don’t think one denomination can do it, but that it’s going to take hundreds and hundreds of churches to reach these people significantly for God.”

One of Lighty’s key church planting strategies centers on multihousing ministry, especially in nearby Manitou Springs. According to Lighty, 50 to 60 percent of families living in America (U.S. citizens and non-citizens) reside in apartment complexes or mobile home communities. But 95 percent of these people do not associate with a local church, and only 4 percent say they actually attend a church.

“We use a variety of strategies to impact the multihousing communities,” Lighty said. “Many multihousing communities are extremely multi-ethnic. In Colorado Springs, we have about 6,000 Russian-speaking people and a significant Romanian population. The world is coming here, and many of them live in multihousing communities.

“So one thing we’re trying to communicate to pastors is that these people may never come to your church building but perhaps we can plant a church in that multihousing community,” whether an apartment complex or mobile home park.

Wynn Greene is the Pikes Peak Baptist Association’s multihousing coordinator for the Front Range area of the Rocky Mountains.

“We’re not keeping up with what God is doing,” Greene said. “God has brought the world to America and to multihousing communities. So we missionaries can put our passports back in the drawer and our suitcase back in the closet and start praying for the local community.

“Bill Lighty, as the DOM for the Pikes Peak Baptist Association, has been phenomenal because of his personal leadership and his past experience as a pastor in the Colorado Springs area for over 20 years,” Greene said.

But Lighty said the challenge to reach Colorado Springs is intensifying because the percentage of unchurched in the Colorado Springs metro area is going up, not down.

“In the ’90s, our local newspaper took a survey and discovered that at that time, only 25 percent of the people went to church on a given Sunday. Ten years later, they repeated the exact same survey and found that now only 20 percent go to church. It’s dropped 5 percent.”

At the same time, Colorado Springs continues to grow by leaps and bounds as it has for the past 30 years.

“To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a revival west of the Mississippi River, and that’s sad,” Lighty said. “I’ve been praying for 25 years that God would bring us a revival and that we would see a fresh movement of God in this region, whether it’s along the I-25 corridor, in Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins or wherever.”

Why is the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering important to Lighty’s ministry?

“It’s critical because so much of what we do is mission-driven. Our new churches are oftentimes very small, and many of the pastors are bivocational or their wives work full time so they can pastor part time. Without ‘Annie,’ probably one-third of our churches would go under, especially in this economy.”

Lighty sums up the challenge like this: “It seems as if God has said, ‘OK, if you won’t go to the mission field, I’ll bring the mission field to you.’ So now, the mission field is here and it’s right in our backyards. All local churches have to do is go into these communities, be what God has asked us to be and do the work He has asked us to do. We have no excuses.”
Mickey Noah writes for the North American Mission Board. To view video profiles of all 2010 Week of Prayer missionaries, go to www.anniearmstrong.com/2010video.

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  • Mickey Noah