BOULDER – A 122-year-old church with a history of planting thriving, new congregations has – in what is a relatively new concept – successfully transplanted some of its members to a growing town 17 miles east of here, maintaining one church in two locations.
Calvary Bible Church’s east “campus” has proven as fruitful as its Boulder base, say leaders and members who in 2011 bought 11 acres for a second, permanent home for the growing congregation of 450 in Erie, a town of 19,000 residents.
Now in its fifth year, Calvary’s Erie branch remains vitally connected to its roots, sharing resources and leadership with the 1,000-member, Boulder congregation. Each campus has its own leader – Senior Pastor Tom Shirk in Boulder and Adrian Boykin in Erie.
A member of the Evangelical Free Church, Calvary has successfully planted churches in Longmont and Broomfield, and has assisted two struggling Lafayette congregations that subsequently formed an independent mega-church
Leaders of the Erie and Boulder campuses of Calvary Bible Church, founded in 1889 as the Swedish Christian Tabernacle in Boulder, admit they are tilling new ground – a multi-site concept, or one church in two locations. And, so far, they like the results.
“The multi-site approach has been tremendously successful in terms of growth numerically and in leadership development,” said Boykin, who admits he’s grown as a leader since pioneering a group of 200 from Boulder to Erie five years ago. The congregation has doubled in size since then.
The success of the Erie campus under Boykin’s leadership led to a near unanimous decision by 173 members to sow $685,000 in an 11.2-acre field on which the church intends to build a permanent home by 2014. Members further committed to plant a nearly $5 million building on the Erie parcel over the next three years, with completion scheduled for Easter Sunday.
Until then, Calvary members will continue to meet at Erie High School, delighting their landlord who says he couldn’t ask for a better, weekend tenant.
Even after they leave the high school, Calvary leaders and members say they will maintain their cherished, close ties to the school through “Embrace Erie High,” a unique, multi-faceted outreach to students, teachers and staff that began shortly after the church opened its doors.
Outside the high school, Calvary’s commitment to widows, orphans, single moms, the hungry and oppressed has warmed many hearts to the church’s presence in Erie, where leaders estimate less than five percent of the town’s residents attend church. “It’s a ridiculously small number,” said Boykin, who hopes to increase church attendance by meeting spiritual and physical needs in Erie, which is expected to grow to 30,000 residents by 2020.
Since Calvary’s arrival in 2006, when Erie’s population numbered 14,000, six evangelical churches have closed their doors to an estimated 300 people who attended them, according to Boykin.
Transplanted members immediately began building relationships at the high school, sending cards, notes and gifts to teachers and staff, and serving lunches at critical periods during the academic year.
The good will reached a crescendo in the spring of 2011 when 220 Calvary volunteers descended on Erie High for ShareFest, an annual, countywide outreach of various churches to their communities. In June, Calvary members helped return the 61-acre Erie campus to its 2005 conditions, said Jennifer Jones, a Calvary member and outreach coordinator.
Whether at the school or around the world, intentional acts of kindness motivate Calvary Bible Church members, according to Boykin.
“Good deeds for the community leads to good will with the community, which creates a platform to share the good news,” he said.
The vision for Calvary’s building in Erie is “a center of activity for the community” much like the Boulder campus where, on any given day, hundreds of Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) meet alongside other groups representing everybody from senior citizens to those seeking recovery from addictions.
“There’s something about a building that can stabilize,” said Boykin, whose office is a rented space in Erie.
Calvary’s Erie building – based on preliminary drawings – will be a 30,000-square-foot, multi-purpose “craftsman” style structure, incorporating beams and wide open windows in its design. “In many ways it matches the town we live in,” Boykin said. Final design plans may change, but the building’s overarching purpose will be to welcome the community to a 700-seat worship center, education wing and community rooms.
“Our vision is to integrate into the town and seek partnerships with the town, and not replicate and duplicate services it already provides,” Boykin said.
Sketches include a soccer field and community garden, an idea borrowed from the Boulder campus.
Boykin envisions sharing 10- to 20-percent of the Erie community garden’s yield with the local food bank and human service organizations in Longmont and Lafayette – the OUR Center and the Sister Carmen Community Center.
“Our vision is that through this building we’d be able to do three things on a 24/7 basis: Provide better discipleship programs for our people; Bless our community through a constant presence and utilization of the building; And extend bridges to the world through Calvary’s commitment to missions,” Boykin said.
From Erie to war-torn South Sudan, Calvary’s two campuses support widowed and single women and orphans through at least 10 outreaches, including: Men of Action, which Boykin oversees in Erie; Operation Christmas Child, an outreach of Samaritan’s Purse that provides gifts to the poor worldwide; and the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan, a Boulder campus program that, to date, has resettled about 150 Sudanese children in Colorado, some in Boulder County. Calvary members also funded a school building in Sudan.
Closer to home, the Erie campus supports or provides outreach to the Erie Food Bank, Kids Against Hunger, Legacy Assisted Living, Habitat for Humanity, and A Hope and a Future.
Generously and sacrificially, Boykin said, Calvary members raised almost $1 million in six months for both the Erie land purchase and financial support of three service organizations. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas 2010, in what leaders called an “Advent Conspiracy,” Calvary members raised $180,000 for the Boulder County Safe House, Kids Against Hunger and the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan. The project emphasized spending less, giving more, worshiping fully and loving the world.
One of Calvary’s community outreaches in Erie – Men of Action (MOA) – assists single moms, widows and men who are in distress both inside and outside the church.
Single mom and grandmother Charlene Greene of Broomfield counts on the MOA to help her with things she can’t do at her home, which was built in the1970s..
“I have a list a mile long,” said Greene, an Erie campus member who first attended Calvary in Broomfield and Boulder. “Its not hard for me to find things to do,” she said.
Over a three-year-period, MOA has performed yard work, small appliance repairs, and maintenance inside and outside Green’s home at no charge to her.“They (MOA) are my family and friends,” she said.
Greene first requested the help of Erie’s MOA some years back when she found herself unexpectedly out of work and short on cash for repairs to a leaky dishwasher.
“Initially, I refused but my daughter insisted that I ask for help,” said Greene.
On her first visit to the Boulder church five years ago leaders announced the expansion into Erie.
“I knew that God wanted me to be part of a ground-floor opportunity,” Greene said.
Since then, Greene’s belief that she’s in line with God’s will has strengthened. In addition to hundreds of man hours at her home, Greene received a new car from an Erie church family the day after hers broke down.
She also appreciates having Godly role models around her adopted daughter who is a single mother of a 3-year-old, and who is expecting another child.
It’s not just church members who appreciate the service-minded efforts of Calvary Bible Church.
Erie High School Principal Steve Payne and his staff returned the summer of 2011 to campus conditions comparable to opening day six years ago, with new paint covering 30,000 square feet inside the building, and tons of mulch and gravel spread over the windswept campus.
Payne’s staff – custodians and teachers – gave Calvary leaders a standing ovation at a school-sponsored luncheon honoring volunteers’ success in returning the school to what he says are near original conditions after years of wear and tear.
“They’re such a giving and generous group of people,” Payne said.
Their two-day effort in early spring 2011 contributed to refurbished hallways, locker rooms and parking areas, where Calvary members applied news stripes to the lots.
“We feel like if we can bless the community around us, locally, we see a lot of great benefits from that,” said Jones, who coordinates the high school outreach. “It’s enjoyable,” she said.
Even after moving into their new building, Calvary members will continue their outreach to the school, providing student tutoring, lunches to teachers during statewide student testing, and other acts of service.
“We definitely want to continue the relationships,” Jones said. “We’ll continue to look for opportunities to serve Erie High, though the outreach will look a little different when we’re in our new building.”
During the 2011-12 school year, the outreach may include a fall surprise for teachers during conferences with parents, and the women’s ministry will provide gifts for teachers at the end of the school year.
In addition to overseeing Calvary’s various outreaches in Erie, Boykin carries the mantle of teaching and preaching 80 percent of the time, sometimes sharing sermon outlines with Boulder campus Pastor Shirk. “We try to arrive at something similar,” Boykin said. “We have trust for each other.
“(Pastor) Tom has carefully guided me and allowed me to develop as a pastor,” Boykin added.
In 2005, pastors and elders at the Boulder church sensed a need for a church in Erie because many people east of 95th Street were commuting a long way, according to Communications Director John Boyle.
“There was this strong, burgeoning community in Erie, with no large, Bible-based, evangelical church,” Boyle said. “Several had been planted but they had trouble getting started.”
With its success in planting other churches, Boulder’s unified, consistent leadership began looking to Erie as a home for another strong, discipleship-oriented church.
“We felt that we could take that intact, cultural DNA and start a campus in Erie,” Boyle said.
“We believe great towns need great churches,” said Boyle, who shares in other ministry responsibilities at the Boulder and Erie campuses.
Calvary Bible Church’s Erie land is at County Line Road and Evans Street. Both campuses are on the church’s website, www.calvarybible.com.