February Update

Looking up the ski lift from the Cascade in Vail

Thinking back to where we left off with our last update, it seems like time has flown! After a great holidays in Virginia and North Carolina with family we were back in Denver and really hit the ground running! Being away from Denver for a few weeks gave us a great appreciation to be back in the city that has become our home. The excitement we felt to get back was a real confirmation of how much we love this place and that we know God has us right were he wants us for now.

As you probably know, we’re not a family that sits still easily, and 2010 has started with quite a lot of traveling for all of us. In January we traveled to Casper, WY for the first family business meeting for Willow Creek Ranch , Kate’s family’s ranch in central WY. This was the first time we all gathered together since Kate’s dad’s passing to discuss how to best manage the ranch. His vision and expertise are sorely missed but he would certainly be proud of how his wife and girls are stepping up to continue his legacy. One of the things we love about being in Denver is being closer to Kate’s family and being more involved with the ranch.

Kate and Stephen have both had trips for work over the last couple months. Kate traveled to Atlanta for Ronald Blue & Company’s annual meetings in January, and Stephen just got back from the Ecclesia Network’s national gathering in Washington, DC. As a result both Kate and Stephen have felt a little like off and on single parents this year (though admittedly Stephen got some help from Kate’s sister Kristen while Kate was gone).

Of course all our trips haven’t been business. We’ve made time to take a couple trips up to the mountains to ski a bit. We did a few days at Vail as a family, and Kate and Stephen have taken turns taking Ethan up for the day to Loveland and to Keystone. Ethan really loves to ski and continues to get better, as evidenced in this video where he takes off and leaves mom in the dust!

One step off the trail, you're up to your waist in powder!

Stephen also got the chance to go with some guys from New Denver on a “hut trip.” There is a great system of remote mountain cabins managed by the 10th Mountain Division where you can hike in (actually snowshoe this time of year) and experience some of Colorado’s amazing back country. The highlight of the trip was a snowshoe hike at night – with no flashlights or headlamps! The night was so clear and the moon so bright reflecting off the snow that it wasn’t necessary to have any other light!

Ethan continues to keep us busy following his sports career. We just wrapped up his first season of basketball and will start soccer next week. Ethan had fun playing basketball, but it’s not his favorite. I think football is still his first love with soccer a close second (much to his daddy’s delight). Andrew continues to be our “little dictator” – swinging the mood of our household with all his two-year-old attitude shifts! He has warmed to his babysitters but still would rather do anything except go to school. Still, in his best moments he keeps us all laughing and can melt your heart with his sweetness. Both our boys are such an amazing blessing.

Things continue to move forward for New Denver Church. The most exciting news is our new location at Bonnie Brae Church which is just about six blocks from our house! A friend of Stephen’s from a Bible study here in Denver connected us with the church after they contacted him seeking a young new church to meet in their building. After a couple months of discussions both churches felt like it was a good partnership. Though we continue to emphasize that our church is about people, not a building or programs, we are excited to have a place to call “home” for our worship services for the foreseeable future. We have learned so much this year about the culture of Denver and just how difficult it is going to be to grow a church in this climate, but we are encouraged by steady growth of our small congregation and remain committed to the vision God called us to here in this city.

If you’ve read this far, I’ll say again – thank you for caring enough to track with us, and a special thanks to all of you who pray for us. This move to Denver is the adventure of a lifetime, and we are loving every minute of it. But it is not without significant difficulties and disappointments. We feel a dependence on God in this season of our life that is unlike any time before. More than ever we are grateful for all our friends and family that pray for us and for New Denver Church. Please let us know if there are ways we can pray for you as well – either post a comment or send us an email (to stephen[at] or kate[at]

Meeting with Hugh Halter

hughToday Norton and I had the opportunity to meet with Hugh Halter, pastor with the Adullam church network and author of The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community. I knew a little bit about Adullam, primarily from reading their website (here’s a link to learn more) and talking to pastors here in Denver. Essentially Adullam is a network of home gatherings (“villages”) that meet around the city of Denver. They gather twice a month for corporate worship gatherings, but their main emphasis is leading people to a missional lifestyle.  Now “missional” is quite the buzz word in church  circles these days, but honestly Hugh is the first guy I’ve met who’s not talking about it – he’s doing it. He’s created a network of people committed to living interdependently through villages and reaching people far from God.

Now, there’s a lot that could be said about this missional movement and the things that Hugh and Adullam have done to live out this commitment, and I’d be glad to talk to you about that stuff if you’d like to know more – just email me. But the main purpose of this post is to share why my meeting with Hugh today rocked my world. Here’s a list of things Hugh shared that has my head spinning:

  • Hugh lived in Portland, OR before coming to Denver. I always thought Portland was one of the hardest places to plant churches in America. Hugh says Denver is harder. As Hugh put it, “People move here to play, not to get committed to something.”
  • In the last several years 60-80 church plants have come to Denver. 3-4 have really stuck around. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, have been poured in by denominations that has resulted in very little church growth.
  • In Hugh’s opinion, “Denver is purely a missionary environment now.” As such really reaching “sojourners” (non-believers, people far from God, de-churched people) requires a different approach than the typical path of creating programs to draw people in.
  • Hugh advocates a three-phase approach to developing a missional community of faith
    1. Engage culture (get a job, meet your neighbors, join community organizations, get involved in service, get involved at your kids’ school).
    2. Form community – Start intentional communities that meet in homes (“clusters of friends throughout the city in which community, communion, and mission unfold as a way of life”).
    3. Structure a congregation – Communities meeting in homes will not sustain themselves. They need to be connected to something larger. They need to gather. This requires structure and organization…but not too much.
  • Hugh strongly challenged us to get jobs and spend as little as we can for as long as we can. Most church plants in Denver have failed, because they just run out of support.
  • Hugh challenged us to raise the bar on leadership. “Spend your time with pagans and leaders…and no one else.”
  • Part of the problem of the church today is that we are mired in a culture of consumerism. “The only way to remove consumerism is to remove what people consume.” In Hugh’s opinion this means the church needs to provide less programs that people just consume.
  • There is very little tolerance for believers who come to Adullam and aren’t fully committed to this way of life. There is a six-month process you have to go through before you can start your own village (home gathering).
  • We asked him about how they deal with kids. They don’t focus much on kids until they’re elementary age, and then they integrate them into the villages. I’m still unclear how this plays out.
  • He laid out what he asserted as the healthy apostolic function of a church. The church should always be sending and should always be gathering. If the church focuses too much on sending (in Hugh’s model, this is creating these missional “village” communities) they spread too thin and momentum won’t be sustained. If the church focuses too much on gathering, the church loses its ability to reach the culture.
  • The last thing Hugh gave us before our time ended was this:

    “Focus on making disciples, and a church will follow. Don’t worry about building a church – leave that up to God.”

This meeting just happened a few hours ago, so I’m still processing it. Writing this post was part of that for me. I’m not sure how this affects what we do or how we can use the wisdom and experience Hugh shared from his time in Denver, but today’s meeting has given me plenty to think about.

Group Life Advisory Team


This week I had the opportunity to spend time with some really gifted and dedicated small groups pastors from around the country as a part of the Willow Creek Association’s Group Life Advisory Team. This was my third year getting to connect with this team, and every year has been very helpful. It is a great opportunity to learn from some of the most innovative churches and leaders, all of whom are committed to leading people toward a growing relationship with Christ through community in small groups. These really are the men and women shaping the group life movement in America. Beyond being a great learning opportunity, it’s also just a lot of fun. It’s a chance to meet with old friends and connect with new ones. This year was even more special for me, because it was a chance to catch up with my good friends Bill Willits and Tim Cooper from North Point for the first time since I left.

Our two days together covered a range of topics, but I’ll try to net out my biggest takeaways. The purpose of the team was not to solve problems, but instead to surface the greatest issues that small groups ministry is facing in our contexts. What emerged was a picture of what is going on around the country. Here are the highlights:

  • Online community – This was the hottest topic of the week. It seems everyone is thinking about what to do with all the technology tools that now exist to bring people together. As you might expect, there was a wide range of opinions. What was generally agreed upon was that that technology was a good form of connection, but much more could happen in real-world interactions. There were some who were still skeptical, asserting that engaging in “online community” will only lead to more fractured, disconnected lives.
  • Missional community – This was maybe the most frustrating discussion of the week. While there were valuable things shared, it was clear that there is no clear sense of what missional means – everyone has their own definition. So discussions often sailed past participants who were talking about different things. Scott Boren of Woodland Hills Church had some great thoughts. He’s currently finishing a book on the missional church and shared some helpful thoughts from his research.
  • Spiritual Formation – I feel like there is so much potential in this conversation and much more time we could have spent on it. What was agreed was that small groups are a critical part of spiritual growth and a significant catalyst to develop faith. But everyone affirmed that groups alone are insufficient to help people form spiritually. Willow has put a lot of work into developing an extensive class system to address the growth needs of people in different stages of spiritual development. Others have followed suit or implemented 1-1 or smaller groups for discipleship training.
  • Reveal and small groups – Willow took some time to talk about the clarified conclusions they have from Reveal. There was some healthy tension in the room surrounding the damage Reveal has done for the church-wide perception of small groups. Many people have misinterpreted Reveal and used it as their blunt instrument to bash the seeker-sensitive church and small groups ministry. New data coming out of Willow is clarifying that small groups are a very significant part of spiritual growth. Again, they are just not sufficient alone. The message to Willow from the advisory team was clear – there is a significant image problem for the group movement that can only be reversed by serious work from the Reveal folks.
  • Groups research – I talked with a member of the advisory team who did a study of over 3000 small group leaders from several hundred churches across a broad denominational and non-denominational spectrum. I’m going to try to get a summary of his results, but here’s one nugget he shared. They found no correlation between group leader preparation and spiritual growth in their group. However they found a direct correlation between how much the leader prayed and growth in their group. So if you have limited time to prepare for your group, pray for the group and wing the lesson!

I’ll try to post some of the notes when Willow sends those along. Also, if you’re on Facebook you can now connect with the Advisory team at Willow Creek’s Group Life page.

Building a team, building a church


When Norton, Jason, and I began dreaming of starting a church in Denver together almost a year ago, one of the things we all shared that drew us to Denver was a love of the outdoors. So when we decided to make some time to do an all-day team meeting while Jason was in town, it only made sense that our first meeting would be somewhere that we could take advantage of our new city. Read more