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.

Virtual community


Photo Credit: Davey Brown

As someone who started his career working in technology and now works in ministry, I am obviously fascinated at the intersection of these two worlds. Over the last several years I have been particularly fascinated to watch the rise of “virtual community” as the web has evolved into a highly interactive world that affords the opportunity to interact with others. The question is, “Is this community?”

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