When people think of Colorado they think of beautiful mountains, ski resorts and Big Sky country, Dave Howeth sees the deep spiritual need. Howeth is no stranger to pioneer missions and in this episode shares the challenges and the opportunities for those looking to make a gospel difference.
Chris Turner: Hello and welcome in to this edition of Radio B&R. I’m Chris Turner, Director of Communications at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, and today I’m speaking with Dave Howeth, who is a NAMB Send missionary to the city of Denver, but Dave, first, thanks for being a part of our podcast, and second of all, it’s actually more than Denver. Explain a little about where it is that you cover and what it is your responsibility is there in Colorado.
Dave Howeth: Sure. Thanks, Chris. Yeah, it’s great to be part of this. Send Denver is more than just Denver because, when they define the boundaries, they selected our region in terms of what’s known as the front range, from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, with Denver in the hub, so that’s about four and a half million people [crosstalk 00:00:51] out of the five and a half that are in the whole state, so that’s eighty percent of the state’s population. That’s along what we call I-25 or the front range. It’s about 120 miles.
Chris Turner: So that’s … There’s just a lot of diversity that’s in that, and you had mentioned as well, just a little while ago before we started the podcast, that you really see that diversity of people and the mix of people at a Colorado Rockies game of all places. Explain a little bit about what you were saying about Rockies games and the mix of people that are actually in Colorado.
Dave Howeth: Yeah, it’s … Denver’s a very fascinating area. The Denver metro area’s a little over three million people and the population that’s there, 70 percent of the three million are roughly what we refer to as domestic immigrants. They are immigrants that have come from the other 48, 49 states that have moved to Denver. Cause Denver’s a place of escape, it’s a destination city, and so people love moving there, working there, doing life there, the quality of life. So, that probably is most manifested and pictured when you go to a Rockies baseball game.
So if the Chicago Cubs come to town, since you’re a Cubs fan, and everything, you’ll find, there’s a little … The needle will tip a little bit more to Cub fans being there than Rocky fans, and that’s because they’re from Chicago, Chicagoland, Illinois, or wherever. [crosstalk 00:02:24] Same thing with my Cardinals, when we go to a Cardinal game, there’s 50/50 split cause a lot of people are from Missouri and Kansas and those areas, and they migrated and moved to Denver. And so, as a result, the Colorado baseball games, many times, reflect the culture that’s in Denver and along the front range, as they’re transplants.
Chris Turner: Well, and talk a little bit about that culture. Just the spiritual need, the spiritual lostness, and really what you’re finding in Colorado as it relates to kingdom work.
Dave Howeth: Yeah. You know, I think every city, every community, from a missionary standpoint, a missiology standpoint, we look to find out what the idols are, and so there’s many different idols there, because when I … Even when I’ve spoken in Tennessee churches or other groups, I’ll say, “When you think of Denver, what do you think of?” Course, they used to say Peyton Manning. But now it’s like, hey, the Denver Broncos, whatever, but bottom line, the number one idol that’s in our city and the people that are there, is really the outdoors.[crosstalk 00:03:33]
People move there for the outdoors … The creation is what drives those folks there, and so people have looked at Denver as a place of escape, where they … They move there to get a job, but they move there to go skiing, hiking, kayaking, fishing. [crosstalk 00:03:53]
Chris Turner: The job is just the thing to sustain doing what it is that they really want to do.
Dave Howeth: It is, but the problem is, there’s a little bit of a downside to that, because when they get there, they discover a couple things. One is they move there so they can do all the recreating and they can do it in the outdoors. However, when they get there, they discover that it costs more than they ever imagined. They have to work more than they ever thought, and they have less income to go ahead and spend on these things that they thought they would spend more time with. So as a results, there’s a little bit of disillusionment that’s there, so their margin, when they do get margin in their life, they’re gone to the mountains, to skiing, to hiking, biking, and all the different things that they’ve come to do there.
But at the same time, there’s a vacuum, and there’s a spiritual darkness and emptiness with many people. So our culture is mainly post-Christian and in some places pre-Christian. [crosstalk 00:04:47] And so, there’s many, many spots in neighborhoods or different parts of our city, like Boulder and others, that are very much pre-Christian, and are pretty proud of their atheist or agnostic [crosstalk 00:05:01] kind of beliefs. And they really … Don’t want anything to do with organized religion, let alone the church, but they are very spiritually-minded. So it allows us and our planters and others as we train and work with them to learn how to engage lost people, not by inviting them to church, but maybe invite them to Jesus before they ever get invited to church.
Chris Turner: Well, and … For Tennessee Baptists that might be listening to this podcast, you are not unfamiliar to many Tennessee Baptists who worked with you, also, in Montana, so talk a little bit about what some of the similarities are and what some of the differences are between what you saw in Montana and what you see in Colorado.
Dave Howeth: Yeah, no, great question. I think, in many respects, there really isn’t much difference in terms of mindset, cause again, in Montana, there is that outdoor, [crosstalk 00:05:59] there’s that autonomy, that independence, and we find that very much in Denver.
Chris Turner: Yeah, for some reason when I think of Montana, I always think of the old Marlboro man commercial, [crosstalk 00:06:09] the rancher out there, with the straw in his … Out in the snow … A rugged man, kind of deal.
Dave Howeth: And it may not be but we’re the mecca for millenials, so you don’t picture somebody, a young millennial, in that kind of a mode [crosstalk 00:06:26] but he comes with a bike [crosstalk 00:06:30] and just a small car, and a small apartment … But he wants to live a very autonomous [crosstalk 00:06:38] kind of life. He’s looking for relationships, but he doesn’t want too much that’s deep, but he wants to be able to do his own thing.
Chris Turner: So, how do you crack that equation? As you look at … You’re there, obviously, to see people come to Christ, the church take root, and to see the great commission reach Colorado. How do you crack that, because I sense that forced spiritual laws is not going to do it.
Dave Howeth: Yeah, well, again in an area where … Western United States, Montana, Colorado, those places, we’ve never experienced a spiritual awakening. There’s been pockets of revival, but there’s never been an awakening that’s ever come to the west. The only group that migrated west for religious purposes were the Mormons. But all the other groups that are out there, there’s not a lot. And so, the soil out there is really, really hard. [crosstalk 00:07:38]
Where as in Tennessee, you guys were a part of the second great awakening, that really softened the soil, that’s helped create the culture, the great culture, the spirituality, the great volunteer spirit that’s in the volunteer state. And, I mean, Tennessee needs to be applauded for that. And Colorado, what really is there is this vacuum, so we really need this sense of prayer saturation so that we can go ahead and do gospel saturation, [crosstalk 00:08:10] which leads to new birth, making disciples, and churches are going to be born out of that. [crosstalk 00:08:18]
That’s really kind of our strategy because, the only thing to look at is, Jesus talked about four soil types. Well, we’re kind of the rocky soil or we’re really the hard soil, and there is some thorny, but there’s not a lot of good soil there because there’s not been the pre-work that’s been done, and so as a result … When we talk about church planning and the priority of that, that really is, before you plant, you have to first and foremost plow, [crosstalk 00:08:46] and that’s where praying, that’s where churches, that’s where mission teams coming and helping to do the plowing activity so the gospel seed can be planted is really, really important.
Chris Turner: Yeah, and speaking of the importance of that, and churches having that opportunity, your area there in Colorado is an area that we as Tennessee Baptists have a partnership with. You were partners with Tennessee Baptists when you were in Montana. Just talk a little bit about the value of those types of partnerships with state conventions, state mission boards, and the opportunity for churches to participate in a mission project here in the United States.
Dave Howeth: No, well, first of all, Tennessee Baptists are great. We are so thankful for the partnership with Tennessee. It is a tremendous partnership, and the spirit of the people that are made up of those churches are incredible, and the value that … There’s story after story after story we could tell, but it’s been a great partnership, and namely, it’s been a great partnership with churches and pastors coming out to Denver and being part of these vision tours, where they come out for two or three days and meet with six, eight, nine different planters, and try to find that match.
Because every pastor, having been a pastor, been a planter, you’re looking for that Acts 1:8 strategy. You have the Jerusalem, Judea, Sumeria, and the innermost parts, well Denver is the Sumeria. And so, this can become, as we call, the affordable mission trip. [crosstalk 00:10:24] Where they can come from Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville to Denver, bring their people, and participate by adopting and partnering as a supporting church with a planter to go ahead and pray for them, and then come and bring teams to help do hands and feet ministry in the community. And that’s really huge for our planters because the people in our communities where the planters are planting … Those people either have a bad taste in their mouth about the church, or they have no knowledge about the church.
And so, when people come from Tennessee to help work with a church planter, in a community, either with a kids’ camp, or serving, or doing something in that neighborhood, the people of the community that are lost look at that and go, “Why would you come and do this?” It’s beyond their imagination that somebody would take vacation time, spend their money, fly to Denver, come to their neighborhood, and serve like that.
Chris Turner: And people who have been on a mission trip, either across the country or someplace else in the world, that’s not an uncommon question for them to have been asked, is people don’t have a category for understanding why people would give all that to go, and even in that, it’s a great opportunity for them to give a testimony, not only through their service, but verbally through serving the Lord and just loving people.
Dave Howeth: It is, and it’s … That’s where planters, a lot of times, when they’re planning the gospel in a neighborhood, and they have a team from Tennessee that comes and is working with them, to have them come out a couple of times and do that, it just … They get so much credibility built and they’re able to advance the gospel a little bit more because now, here’s ten or twelve people that have come, and it’s like, this suddenly becomes a display of God and his glory, and the grace and the gospel right here. Why would these people do this? It’s like … It’s Jesus in them. And it’s like, that’s undeniable. [crosstalk 00:12:32] And you could preach to them on street corners all day long but that act of kindness and touch of love just blows them away, and a culture, in our post-Christian and pre-Christian culture, that says, “Hey, we really care about our community and we really care about people, and these are tangible ways we’re showing this.”
Chris Turner: Yeah, and it … For somebody who’s coming, they might think they need to do something big and large, and really it’s just that small, which is actually big, expression of service and love that really communicates in a culture like that you’re talking about in Colorado, where there is no expression of the love of Christ lived out in … A ubiquitous way the way we see it in Tennessee, so what are some of the types of things that if a volunteer team from a church in Tennessee came, what are the types of things that they would be able to help a church planter with there in Colorado?
Dave Howeth: Well, first of all, what we try to do is match up a church with a planter, so that we make sure that there’s a good contextual fit. So, it really is based upon what the best contextual ways are to service that community, so like in a suburban community, there might be kids’ camps, sports camps, things of that nature where the team that’s coming from Tennessee is putting on those kind of camps, and doing multiple block parties. And what’s so stinking amazing about Denver is planning, they have more parks in the metro area of Denver, so there are hundreds of thousands of parks all over the place, so planters setting up and using parks, which become the common ground [crosstalk 00:14:25] and neutral zones for the community to come together for a block party and camp.
People in those communities come and they’ll thank the planter and the pastor, and go, “Hey, thank you for doing this. I didn’t know my neighbor. Hey, thank you for doing this.” So again, there are those kind of things. Or in some of our places, in the city of Denver, in the neighborhoods, and again we have almost … We have 700,000 people that live in Denver City, which is amazing, and all these parks, but people coming together and whether it’s a block party or community service project, or something where they’re doing tangible ministry in areas like local schools, like painting, or serving, or feeding teachers, or putting together care packages or backpacks for the kids.
All those kind of things are tangible ways that adds value in the community and that really, really creates a real positive image in the community, so it’s a matter of a team coming and being able to find out what’s best going to advance the gospel ball in that neighborhood, or in that community, that’s really, really important. And it doesn’t have to be a large team. Some of our planters, they don’t want 40 or 50 [crosstalk 00:15:42] people showing up. They want a group of about 8 or 10 [crosstalk 00:15:45] that are coming, and so we’ve got some great Tennessee churches that have adopted planters and they’re coming two or three times during the year, with a different group of people, so the church is … Making three or four trips to the city, and helping with events, but they’re different types of events.
Chris Turner: Even that, a church that picks a place, and they decide they’re going to invest in that place and make multiple trips, those people began to build relationships with the people in that area, not just the church planter that’s out there, and just that recurring relationship is also a positive thing, I would imagine for the work that the church planter is doing on a daily basis, but for those relationships to be built. Plus it really puts a face with, the need, as you mentioned earlier, for prayer. [crosstalk 00:16:33] When you’ve made a relationship with somebody, you’re not just praying for all the people in Denver, you’re praying for that individual that’s in a particular neighborhood that a church planter’s trying to reach.
I would imagine that a place for a church to start that might be interested would probably be to contact Kim Margrave at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Dave Howeth: They can.
Chris Turner: So Kim’s email address is kmargrave, M-a-r-g-r-a-v-e at TMBaptist.org, or I can, I imagine they can probably contact you as well, so what’s your information?
Dave Howeth: If they just go Denver@NAMB.net, that’s the quickest way. [crosstalk 00:17:10] That email is generated right to my email box, or they can give me a call, or whatever. My information’s on the NAMB website for the city of Denver.
Chris Turner: So, as you look over the next year, two years, three years, what is it that you would like to see, at least in the short term, that leads to long term? What are some of the things that you guys hope to see happen within a year from now, two years from now, three years from now, that you’ll know that there’s beginning to get some traction with where things are going?
Dave Howeth: The city of Denver is our biggest area. The closer we keep getting to the urban core of our cities, I think that’s true for Knoxville, Nashville, and Memphis. When you get closer to the core, we see greater density and we see fewer churches. And in Denver, our city of 700,000 and growing rapidly, it’s one of the fastest growing cities in the country, we only had 13 SBC churches for 700,000 people, [crosstalk 00:18:16] which is one church for about 55,000 people. [crosstalk 00:18:20]
That’s incredible, and so now we’ve seen seven new planters coming into our city to plant, so we’re getting up to around 20 churches, but we’re not keeping up with the growth, so we want to see more churches planted in the city of Denver. That’s really important. That’s really, really important to see that happening, and for each of our planters having partner churches to come along and adopt these guys, to pray for them, send teams, and help provide would be amazing. The other great need is our people groups. We have 106 different people groups in the Denver metro area, and so we see the next 5-10 years … That the greatest opportunity is to plant the gospel and plant churches with people groups that are yet reached with the gospel. Cause as we all know, the nations have come to our cities, and that’s true even in a Western city like Denver. But we don’t have a lot of work with Nepalese or Butanese, Ethiopian, so even in Tennessee just partnering with some of your leaders, to say, “Hey, what people groups are you reaching? Maybe you can come with your folks.” And come and do that.
We had a Zomi pastor that came … We sat down with a Zomi pastor from Nashville here a couple of years ago, and he came in and he handed us the document signed off by the Tennessee Baptist Association and everything else, and so his pastor to all was sitting right there, and he was in Aurora trying to plant a church in his little house because they couldn’t meet and find a place to meet, so he was meeting in his little apartment with 35 people that were Zomis, [crosstalk 00:20:02] and that’s a people group. And so, it was through that relationship with Tennessee Baptists, them coming and helping us, and identifying, this is a people group and there’s a church already there. And now they’re planning a church up in Greeley, Colorado, which is part of our Send city reach as well, so and [inaudible 00:20:22] is giving leadership to that.
So, those areas of trying to reach the nations that are moving into our city and our Muslim population et cetera, is really, really important.
Chris Turner: Well, and to back up something you said about the population density per church. You think about Tennessee. Almost all of our cities are less than 50,000 people, so it basically equates to maybe a church in all of our … One church, baptist church, in all of our cities across Tennessee except for our largest cities. So obviously, the need is significant. Most people are not going to go to a church of 50,000 and they’re not going to travel very far. We know that even from our culture within the buckle of the Bible belt. The more difficult it is to get to church, the less likely somebody’s going to go. And so, the best way to even that out is to plant more churches. Well Dave, thanks so much for participating with us. Tennessee Baptists, let’s be praying for Colorado and especially the greater Denver area, and then contact and find out a way to get your church involved with reaching that area, especially with a partnership already in place. There’s a pipeline there, and so let’s take advantage of it. Dave, thanks so much
Dave Howeth: Thank you so much, Chris. Thank you, Tennessee Baptists, we love you.