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Focusing on Disciple-Making First

Listen and learn approach aids Denver church-planting couple.

Elora Collver had a dream one night of people standing around a park in a suburban neighborhood. They looked empty.

Sometime later, Elora and her husband, Matthew, drove past that very park as they searched for a house before launching a neighborhood Assemblies of God church. They knew that God had led them to the right spot. But planting the church would take time.

Matthew and Elora met at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in 2002 and married two years later. In 2007, they joined a church-planting team in Breckenridge, Colorado, an idyllic setting in the Rocky Mountains. But Elora describes the recreational resort community as spiritually cold. After eight years of ministry, the couple looked elsewhere to start a church.

Denver was high on their list. While in Breckenridge, Matthew, 41, and Elora, 38, found themselves spending more time in the Mile High City to escape the colder mountain temperatures. With their young sons, Rylan and Brit, they moved to Denver in August 2015 and settled in Park Hill. They planned to plant a church and launch worship services in September 2016. But as the date approached, they didn’t feel ready.

AG minister Steve M. Pike, one of their mentors, agreed. Pike is a church-planting strategist with Urban Islands Project and the original director of the AG’s Church Multiplication Network. He understood the right and wrong ways to start a congregation in a metropolitan area like Denver.

Though Pike and others at Urban Islands Project understood the zeal to plant a church, they felt the Collvers first needed to become a part of the neighborhood.

“We slowed them down a little bit, because you don't just pick a place and go there,” Pike says. “You have to figure out if you can live there. We really encourage focusing on disciple-making first, and then letting the worship gathering be the result of a disciple-making process.”

The Collvers followed this guidance in Park Hill, a predominantly African-American neighborhood. Matthew, a U.S. Missions missionary associate serving with Church Mobilization, says he and his wife realized “the white messiah complex” would be a major barrier to ministry.

“We didn't want to show up and say, ‘We’re here to save you, and your life is going to get so much better because we’re here,’” Matthew says. “We didn’t know what people were concerned about. We didn’t know what kept them up at night. We didn’t know what their dreams were.”

This “listen and learn” approach worked well. Believing that sharing meals is a good way to break through barriers, the Collvers hosted more than 500 meals in their home over the next 14 months. Matthew describes it as “trying to build more tables instead of more fences.”

In time, the Collvers added to their family — an adopted daughter, Bennet. Their outreach also grew. Every other weekend, they crammed people into their small residence for house church. In September 2017, The Hills Church finally held its first large gathering in a rented space.

With Matthew as senior pastor and Elora connecting with regular attendees and visitors, the church is a blend of blacks and whites, young and old, scholars and unlearned, haves and have nots.

“These groups of people probably wouldn't have walked in the same circles otherwise, but the Cross and the gospel make us brothers and sisters and have reconciled us,” Matthew says.

Despite COVID-19 forcing virtual gatherings for over a year, the congregation is steadily growing. Several events have taken place in the park Elora dreamed about. Matthew has conducted three baptism services and is planning another in September, when in-person services will resume.

Matthew and Elora believe that what they’re seeing in The Hills Church is worth the two years spent building relationships.

“When we think of following Jesus, it’s more than one conversation with the stranger on a street corner,” he says. “It’s going to be walking with them, answering questions, sharing the hope of Jesus, and pointing to a better story — a better place than they found themselves.”

Shacobie Garcia, who has been going to The Hills Church since its beginning, is a youth ministry volunteer. He says he resonated with Collver’s vision.

“I wanted to get back to the basics of a community-driven smaller church,” Garcia says. “Matthew and Elora are authentic humans, open about not being perfect, but about striving to help the community.”

The Hills Church is a CMN Matching Fund church. It is in a parent-affiliated relationship with Life Church in Midlothian, Texas.

Sherri Langton

Sherri Langton, associate editor of Bible Advocate magazine and Now What? e-zine, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Focus on the Family, Decision, Upper Room, Today’s Christian Woman, and other publications. Langton, who lives in Denver, also has contributed to book compilations.