Overcoming isolation: How a Converge church plant fosters community in the foothills
Pastor & writer
Church planting & multiplication
Sam Noonan’s neighbors around Indian Hills, a small town in the foothills west of Denver, tend to be mountain folk with an individualistic mentality, he said.
People have moved to the mountains to enjoy the outdoors and feel less pressure about how to live. But, for all its positives and pleasures, such a setting makes building a social network difficult for Noonan and his wife, Veronica.
“It’s hard to find reliable people in the community to say, ‘Hey, I need help digging out of this massive snowstorm,’” Noonan said.
He said the town, which has less than two thousand people, is spread out over a wide area, meaning neighbors aren’t often near each other.
“It lacks a sense of community,” he said. “It lacks that central hub where people can meet and share ideas and really help each other serve and become closer to God.”
However, since April 2, God has been overcoming that isolation through Grace Hills Community Church, a new Converge Rocky Mountain congregation in the town. The church, planted by Marcus and Kayla Mackey, is a place that feels like home to Noonan, who often feels like an outsider at established churches.
“Having Grace Hills here has changed that and made it more into a community,” Noonan said. “All I can think of to describe it is community. The community itself is really what attracted us and kept us at that church.”
A road trip turns statistics into stories
Months before Marcus and Kayla Mackey planted Grace Hills, they drove nine hours from Missouri to look at a former congregation's empty building. Converge Rocky Mountain regional president Paul Mitton invited the Mackeys to pray and consider the building for a church plant.
Until they arrived in Indian Hills, the Mackeys understood the spiritual reality through statistics that said 90 percent of the community’s people are unchurched. But, meeting a man who lived four houses down from the church building did what numbers never could.
“We asked if he ever went to church,” Marcus said, to which the man said no, that he’d never been invited — even though he lived within walking distance of the former church’s building.
“My heart for the people just began to break,” Marcus said.
As they drove home, looking around at the Colorado foothills, Marcus and Kayla discovered a shared paradigm about their ministry: it was time for something other than serving in places where you could throw a rock and hit six churches.
“We wanted to be somewhere where there was just a great need for a new church,” Marcus said.
Rugged loners who work hard, play hard are embracing Jesus, getting baptized
The Mackeys’ neighbors are often fourth- or fifth-generation residents who’ve inherited land, cabins and rugged individualism. In the last several years, many others have moved from other states, making it more difficult to meet native Coloradans. The newer residents often work in technology, engineering or the oil and gas industries.
Adding to the challenge of building community and obeying Christ’s great commission is Colorado’s mountains — this region naturally encourages people to work hard so they can play hard.
“People live for the weekends here,” Marcus Mackey said. “How do we make disciples when they’re not here?”
Even as the Mackeys and their core team press on in gospel work, the Lord is already doing great things. Twenty-two people chose Christ as Lord and Savior since the church launched, and eight baptisms happened in the church’s first seven weeks.
“I love being able to help people take that next step in their faith journey,” Mackey said. “We all have a next step to take.”
To create such opportunities, the church has pray-and-play events at a local playground for moms and young kids, while the men have begun gathering on Monday nights for a time of prayer and fellowship. In addition, the church plans to start small groups this fall.
Mackey said their building which used to sit empty has also become a resource for the community. An art camp is planned for the community, plus a class for Spanish speakers to learn English now happens on-site.
Woody Henderson and his wife Nicole Hanson are a two-minute walk from worship at Grace Hills, the only church close to their home. During the pandemic, they worshiped online with a church based in Alaska.
After a few years, they’d decided it’d be good to have fellowship and worship with people in their immediate area. But that was challenging to find. So they thought about inviting people into their home to watch the Alaskan church’s live stream.
However, Grace Hills has been an answer to prayer.
“I think God led us here,” Woody Henderson said. “It was what I really needed.”
Cafeteria tables, food trucks and fun make ways to Jesus
Marcus Mackey has repeatedly experienced people coming closer to God in surprising ways. As a fourth grader, he looked around at kids at lunch in his elementary school cafeteria and boldly asked who was going to heaven.
Every child but one boy said they were. Then, on the spot, Marcus told the boy who didn’t raise his hand that he could follow Jesus and be in heaven forever. The boy accepted Christ at the cafeteria table, even as Mackey said he used “the worst evangelism strategy ever.”
“That’s part of my passion for seeing people come to faith,” he said. “God just allowed me to be a part of what he’s doing in my imperfect approach to sharing the gospel.”
Testifying of Christ will continue to be a central practice at Grace Hills, especially as more and more people seek to get away from the city and crowds discover a need for friendships and faith.
“They find they’re lonely — because we were created for community,” Mackey explained.
In response, the church offers expected forms of ministry such as worship, kids ministry, singing and teaching while adding food trucks and celebrations.
“We try and just have fun as a church,” he said. “I don’t have to program a whole lot of things. People just want a space to have a conversation and pray together and laugh together.”
That welcoming environment recently motivated a family to attend a Sunday morning service, even though none follow Christ. Mackey said they hung out for a long time after the service, connecting with others.
“That opens up the opportunity for us to share the gospel with people,” he said. “I’m trying to help people deconstruct that what we are doing is not religion as they think of it, but it really is relationship.”
That’s a contrasting narrative for their neighbors, who have varying spiritualities such as new age practices with crystals, abandoned Catholic or Latter-Day Saints heritage, Buddhism or atheism. Others in the community understand the world in materialistic terms, enjoying this life with all it has to offer to those wealthy enough to spend their way into pleasure and peace.
“You have this interesting hodgepodge of people here, spiritually speaking, and all of them have said, ‘I’m not interested in church. I’m not interested in Jesus,’” Mackey noted.
Disciples are spreading grace through the unchurched foothills
Despite that spiritual indifference, Sam Noonan sees a shifting perspective and a new opportunity for his neighbors through Grace Hills. Since people at a new church all equally experience community life as outsiders, he said the awkwardness of not fitting in is eliminated, and people feel like they’re contributing.
“Every time I go, there are new faces, and everybody’s looking to get involved somehow,” Noonan said. “It is something exciting.”
For the thousand-plus people of Indian Hills and the thousands more in the other foothills towns, the new Converge church is a source of new life in Christ. Converge believes that new churches are one of the best ways for people to meet, know and follow Jesus, a conviction proven anew through God’s work in the people of Grace Hills.
“Every person needs a church because every person needs the gospel,” Mackey said.
Ben Greene is a freelance writer and pastor currently living in Massachusetts. Along with his ministry experience, he has served as a full-time writer for the Associated Press and in the newspaper industry.