BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. (BP)–Residents of the Summit Cove community near the Keystone Resort in Summit County, Colo., don’t have to get dressed up to go to church. They don’t have to drive far at all. In fact, many of them walk to church. They don’t go to a building with a steeple on top. Their church doesn’t even meet on Sunday mornings.
Last year, Agape Outpost at Summit Cove brought church to this community of mostly blue-collar folks that live and work in Summit County. Church planters Scott and Tina Wilson opened their home to a new church start, sponsored by Agape Outpost in nearby Breckenridge.
“We don’t have signs or ads inviting people to church,” Scott says. “We just go out, win them to Jesus, and then invite them to our house for the Thursday night meeting.”
Summit County is one of Colorado’s mountain playgrounds. The area is home to several resorts and lots of second homes.
But tucked away in a quiet valley is Summit Cove. The year-round residents who live here certainly enjoy the amenities of living in Summit County, but they also work at the resorts where the rest of the world plays. Many of them work long shifts and on weekends, and their schedules prohibit attendance at traditional church functions.
So the Wilsons decided to take church to the people, on a day and at a location that works for their neighbors.
“We believe in the house church model,” Scott says. And so far, it’s a model that’s working with great success in Summit Cove.”
The group started meeting last year. When attendance reached into the 40s, another group spun off.
That group, Quest, is led by Dustin and Julie Wagley, members of Agape Outpost in Breckenridge. Quest meets for Bible study on Friday nights and targets the Generation X population of Summit County.
The original Summit Cove group that meets in the Wilson’s home is once again reaching into the 40s for weekly attendance. And plans are already underway to spin off another house church group.
When Scott joined the staff of Agape Outpost in Breckenridge in May of 2001, he brought with him a heart for church planting.
“We had considered opportunities with the International Mission Board,” says Tina. “But it takes so much time to start new works internationally, with the language barriers and other challenges. And Scott’s not a ‘take time’ person.
“We’re entrepreneurial,” she added. “We do things differently.”
There were certainly challenges involved in moving to Summit County.
Carl Rider, director of missions of the High Country Baptist Association, painted a bleak picture for the couple before they moved to Colorado.
“He told us of the exorbitant cost of living and said we’d probably have to rent the entire time we live here,” says Scott. “He told us that no one’s ever made it as a church planter here.
“But the more he talked, the more excited we got,” he says. “If anyone could do it, we could.”
And as soon as the Wilsons committed to come to Colorado, God began to work things out.
Back in Iowa, Scott had purchased an old school bus with the hopes of using it for ministry. He had converted a similar bus in Texas and had a passion for that kind of ministry.
When he moved from Texas to Iowa, he wasn’t able to bring the bus with him. Now, he had a bus, but no funds to fix it up.
God used the bus, though, to confirm his calling to Scott and Tina.
“I met a guy who owned a metal fabricating shop,” he says. The man’s son is a missionary and he was supportive of the ministry intentions Scott had for the old bus.
“He donated time and a worker and materials to convert the bus,” Scott says.
When the Wilsons moved to Colorado, “Big Red” made the trip too, and is now a vital part of their ministry in Summit County. It gets used for concerts, block parties, backyard Bible clubs, Vacation Bible School and all sorts of events.
“I built it to have a weekly, consistent ministry in communities,” Scott says.
“Nobody trusts anymore,” Tina adds. “But Big Red builds trust.”
Big Red and the ministry efforts of the Wilsons are paying off. In less than a year, several people have already been baptized through Agape Outpost at Summit Cove.
“Jonathon and Heather, our next door neighbors, are new Christians,” Scott says. “They’re discovering the Bible for the very first time. They recently saw a rainbow … and it was the first one to come with a promise for them. That’s awesome!”
The work at Summit Cove is just one of several new church plants of Agape Outpost in Breckenridge. Though the church has been around for about 20 years, the last few years have seen tremendous growth as the church has caught a vision for reaching Summit County.
Started as a Bible study in 1980 by a couple of church planters, the group started construction on their log building in 1983. In 1998, Mike Atkinson arrived fresh out of seminary to serve as the church’s pastor. He’s been there ever since.
“We’re just doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” he says about the church’s church planting efforts.
In recent years, God has been laying the groundwork for Agape Outpost to be involved in a church planting movement in Summit County.
Before the Wilsons arrived, God brought others to Agape Outpost that shared a passion for church starting.
“George and Elite Feather had visited Agape Outpost, they had a retirement home here,” Atkinson said. “Though they came, they never really found a church that fit them. They helped us start Sunday School here but their heart was always to start a new church in the Blue River area south of Breckenridge.”
And that’s just what they did.
The town of Blue River sits just below the Continental Divide just south of Breckenridge. And even Feather was surprised to discover how many permanent residents lived in the community.
“I shared with Mike (Atkinson) my concern for all the people south of Breckenridge with no church,” says Feather. “We met weekly to pray about it.”
The Feathers had been members of Mississippi Avenue Baptist Church in Aurora before retiring from the Air Force. So one year, he asked the Aurora church’s minister of youth, Bill Ingram, to bring their youth group to Breckenridge for a summer mission trip rather than going out of state.
“We had Vacation Bible School at the Blue River Condos,” he recalls. “We had about 22 kids.
He says they followed up with the families afterwards, but didn’t get a good response.
“They were kind, but as far as starting a home Bible study, there wasn’t much interest,” he says. “VBS was basically just a week of free childcare.”
Though the efforts at starting a church in Blue River seemed to be going nowhere, God was still working.
Rider became associational director of missions about that time and made his home in Breckenridge.
“His heart is in church planting,” says Atkinson. “And we soon decided that we wanted to be a part of church planting.”
Atkinson and others attended Basic Training for Church Planters, sponsored by the Colorado Baptist General Convention and the North American Mission Board.
God used that event to birth a real vision for church planting in Summit County.
“I never thought smaller churches could plant churches,” Atkinson admits.
Soon after, though, Atkinson describes a plateau in his personal life and the church allowed him to take a sabbatical.
“I gave God the opportunity to call me away,” he says. “But instead God called me back with a renewed vision — a renewed heart.”
Meanwhile, Agape Outpost continued praying for Summit County.
It was during this time that the Wilsons arrived from Iowa. The church also called a new youth pastor.
The efforts in Blue River and other communities continued. Agape Outpost released 10 families to start a new work for Hispanics in Frisco at Immanuel Baptist Church.
For the 15 years before, Agape Outpost had only baptized a handful of people.
But now, within just a few months, new believers were coming to faith all over the county.
“We baptized 10 people at Agape Outpost, seven from Summit Cove, four from Quest, three from Blue River and eight from Immanuel Baptist Church,” Atkinson says.
The Feathers eventually started a Bible study in their home in Blue River.
And though the work continued to be slow in developing, the Feathers, the Riders and others persevered.
“We finally decided to start with a public worship service,” says Feather. “Rather than a house Bible study or a core group.”
They discovered a perfect meeting location at the Skiers’ Edge Condominiums.
“What was once a bar and lounge was now a game room,” he said. And management was delighted to have the church at Blue River meeting on their property each week.
Membership at Blue River is now about 25 people with a high attendance of 39. They’ve had as few as 12, but the Feathers aren’t discouraged.
“We’re doing what the Lord tells us to do,” he says. “We’re sharing the gospel and making church accessible to people.”
They’re already planning for a graded Sunday School and talking with the property managers about their additional space needs.
They host home discipleship studies and they have a pastor search committee.
This fall, they’re sponsoring a community soccer team from Breckenridge Elementary School.
They already have a budget and give to the Cooperative Program and associational missions.
“We’re minimizing the bottlenecks to reaching people for Christ,” Atkinson says of their church planting efforts. “Before, our goal was to fill this building. But that’s a bottleneck.”
According to Atkinson, Agape Outpost wants to reach as much of the world as possible.
“We have internationals here working and skiing,” he says. “They can take the gospel to places we can’t go.
“When we realize that we can’t bring them all here to this building — and that I don’t have to pastor them all — there’s no limit to how many people we can reach for Christ.”