On a bright Sunday morning when most Colorado farmers woke before dawn to plant spring wheat, Denver's Riverside Baptist Church celebrated its harvest of souls. Riverside's annual gathering marked the fourth birthday of their Arms Around Denver missions program, and brought members and participants of its twenty congregations and ministries together for a time of praise and celebration.
This was to be no ordinary church service. A row of Harley-Davidson motorcycles growled to a halt in front of the church's east foyer. The bikers, who in any other setting would seem intimidating in their coal-black leather and crimson headbands, were actually members of a Riverside sponsored congregation. They stood at the door, welcoming all who entered with a warm smile and a hearty "howdy."
Their greetings were joyfully returned in a variety of languages. Amidst the "hi," "hello" and "welcome," there were also greetings in the dialects of Romania, Korea, Japan, Mexico, China, and Vietnam. Amanda Ayers, a deaf youth member at Riverside central, returned the greeting in sign language.
As members of the diverse ministries and congregations filled the 3,000-seat worship center, new friendships blossomed and cultural walls came down.
The diversity of the combined congregations in one service reflects the cross cultural focus of the church's Arms Around Denver ministry. Reaching the surrounding communities was pastor Rick Ferguson's goal when he led Riverside in starting the ministry with the help of the Home Mission Board, the Colorado Baptist Convention, and the Denver Baptist Association.
"Five years ago, the church decided to expand its facilities in central Denver rather than relocate north or south, areas which were both growing phenomenally," Ferguson said. "Through prayer, God revealed that we were to remain in our current location and continue to build a strong Christ-centered, Bible-preaching church that would serve much like a hub with many spokes extending into every community in the Denver metropolitan area.
"Denver is home to just over two million people," he said. "Our worship center seats 3,000 people if you stack them in there just right. Even if the church were filled three times a day less than one-half of one percent of this city will be reached. Even if this church ran 10,000 members, we could not honestly say we were reaching this city with the gospel. It was going to take more than the 'mega-church' strategy to impact this city"
Ferguson noted that popular church growth concepts and strategies primarily ask lost people to come to them rather than going to the lost people of the community. They felt led by God to reverse that trend.
In the four years Arms Around Denver has operated, it has flourished. The program now has nineteen satellite churches or Bible study ministries in the Denver Metro area, representing virtually every segment of it. The satellites reproduce Riverside in theology and philosophy and rely on the central campus for early-stage finances, ministry resources, recognition, credibility and promotion.
"Our satellites are indigenous congregations, organized and ministering under the umbrella of Riverside Baptist Church," Ferguson said. "They are all different — they all contextualize the ministry without compromising the gospel." On this spring Sunday morning, the members of the diverse congregations gathered as one to celebrate their unity, and to focus on reaching their communities for Christ. The service began in song, appropriately with Wayne Watson's Field of Souls.
Following the welcome and prayer by the pastor of a Hispanic satellite, twenty new Christians from four different churches were bapti7ed and members of five satellite congregations gave testimonies of how the church starts are changing lives and bringing in new believers.
Ferguson then addressed the audience. "This is what church is all about," he said. "I don't know about you, but I'm ready for the rapture right now. We'll just go on to Glory and keep this up as the family of God."
He encouraged the members in their ministries and reaffirmed the need to evangelize in ways that overcome cultural barriers.
"Cross-cultural, Christ-centered church growth will be contextualized," Ferguson concluded. "The growing churches will be innovative without losing identity. They will contextualize the gospel without compromising it. It will be costly; costing in finances, in prayer, and in sacrifice. Make no mistake — whatever the cost, winning new believers to Christ is worth the cost."
As the sermon ended, the multi-ethnic crowd was slow to disperse from the worship center and foyers. Worshippers communicated not in a common language, but instead with warn' smiles of understanding or loving gentle hugs of brotherhood.
Outside, the motorcycles rumbled their deafening roar one-by-one as they lined up in the parking lot for a Sunday afternoon ride. Slowly the parking lot emptied as believers returned to their own congregations and ministries, mindful of their eternal unity and resolved to reach their communities for Christ.
by Bryan McAnally
Theirs is a world of scuffed black leather, wind-blown hair and long, loud rides on sun-baked pavement. Theirs is a world typified by violence, alcohol, and partying. They are bikers, but they are different. These bikers, the congregation of The Church of The Wind, are Christians.
The members of this Denver church, started through Riverside Baptist's Arms Around Denver ministry, meet on Friday nights so they can participate in the road rallies that regularly take place on Sundays. This way they can hit the road to evangelize and disciple other bikers at the rallies.
Gary Davis is the pastor of this unconventional congregation. He preaches in a black leather vest with his long, salt-and-pepper hair pulled into a ponytail.
"I was saved in August, 1973 and God has used us to be His voice in the biker world. We have a great body of strong believers. These people are good souls who come from every walk of life. Though many came from a background of crime, they are no longer outlaws. Most have strong, loving families," he said.
"When we're with bikers from around the country and the world, we are a positive influence. We have gone from being tolerators to encouragers. We may be the only Bible some of these people ever see," he added. Davis said the biggest obstacle in being a Christian biker is overcoming the stereotypes held by the non-biker world.
"Sometimes people can't see past the leather, the hair and the Harleys," he said. "But some of us are just as hungry for the Lord and just as excited about spreading the good news as other, more ordinary Christians."
Pastor Explains Riverside's Outreach Philosophy
by Bryan McAnally
T, he "Mega-church" is out and the "meta-church" is in according to Rick Ferguson, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colo., in his address to the Home Mission Board/National Leadership Conference, Feb. 25, in San Jose, Calif.
"'Mega' means 'big,' and 'meta' means 'change," Ferguson said. "The meta-church does not speak of size, but of change; pastors changing their mind about the way ministry is to be done and churches changing their minds about freedom from size constraints."
A meta-church is one that refuses to limit its size or ministry to a single campus, building, or location, he said. It suggests multiple campuses, multiple congregations, multiple cells, and multiple satellites. "The mega-church says, 'you come to us,' but the meta-church says, 'we'll come to you,' Ferguson said.
Riverside and Arms Around Denver has gathered visible fruit from the vision they say God gave them.
"The average weekly attendance in our satellites has grown from 300 in 1994 to over 1025 now," Ferguson stated. "Their average weekly Bible study is reaching 800 and our satellites baptized over 280 people in the last two years."
He added that three of the congregations were in the state's top twenty-five for baptisms, joining the central campus, which led the state.
"I'm often asked if starting many other churches drains from the mother church and slows down its growth, and I'm asked if it is costly to start new churches," he said.
As an answer, Ferguson points to these facts: Riverside central has increased by 1,100 in the last five years and Sunday School attendance has tripled. Their budget has grown from $750,000 to $2.2 million. They recently paid $1.5 million in cash for the first phase of a $10.2 million building program, and have developed a self-sufficient television ministry aired locally and nationally. For the last two years, Riverside has averaged over 500 additions, and people continue to come.
"It's a little costly, but it is far more costly not to start churches. The only thing more costly than obedience to God is disobedience," he said.