Bridgeway Community Church &
Bear Creek Church Merger
Click the Buttons Below for Information about the proposed upcoming merger.
On Sunday morning, September 24, we held a Town Hall type meeting in which we shared with the congregation where we are in the process of a merger. Nita Kulesa with the help of a number of your elders provided a wonderful breakfast to complement a well-attended and well-received meeting. I have copied my notes below and am sending them to you for your information. Please let your Session or me know if you have any questions or concerns. We want to do the best job we can not only in confirming the Lord’s will in this matter, but also in making sure that we address every question and concern as best as possible.
May the Lord bless you!
a. Our current condition as a congregation?
• We have a God-assigned, strategic position with BCHS next door, Bear Creek K-8 down the street, surrounded by a diverse, high density population…
• We are a congregation of people who have been faithful and generous. BCC has been a remarkably resilient people!
• We are a church of 150. We are stuck and in decline; we don’t have the critical mass to sustain children’s and young adult ministries for the future of BCC. We need a renewed vision and an influx of young families. We are not on life support, but in need of something dramatic to alter our course or we will go into hospice care in the near future….
• The pastor search was inconclusive.
b. May 23 Session meeting: Session agreed to suspend the Pastor Search Process and explore the feasibility of a merger. Four Session members were elected to serve on the Exploratory Committee – Carl Christianssen, Jeff Lynch, Nita Kulesa and Vijay Johnwesley – and me.
c. Three key exploratory questions for a merger:
• Could we accomplish more together than separately?
• Would our community be better served?
• Could the Kingdom of God be further extended by our merger?
d. Four merger models:
• Rebirth: struggling church gets a second life by merging with a stronger, vibrant congregation
• Adoption: a stable or stuck church is integrated under a stronger, vibrant church
• Marriage: two churches both strong and growing realign to form a new congregation
• ICU: two in trouble churches try to turn around their situation but often fail… survival is not adequate reason.
e. What it means for us:
• We are somewhere between a rebirth and an adoption. We will be the joining church, not the lead church. That means that the church we join in many ways will be like any one of us joining another church. It is not ours, it is someone else’s.
• Session worked through the non-negotiables and the DNA of BCC. We came up with three non-negotiables:
The essentials of our faith. Of course the Gospel of Jesus Christ is essential, the authority of the Scriptures is essential, reformed theology as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith is essential. In a word, those biblical and theological truths as expressed in the Essentials of the EPC are non-negotiable. Now let me make something clear here. As much as we love the EPC, Session did not make ongoing membership in the EPC a non-negotiable. In other words, we are willing to merge with a congregation outside of the EPC, in which case we would become what that church is.
Elder ruled, elder led church. We believe that God has ordered the church to be led and overseen by elders, and that this is in the best interest of the church. Let me pause here. BCC has a history of ordaining women to the office of elder, but the Session has decided that this is negotiable. In other words we are willing to merge with a congregation that does not ordain women to the office of elder.
Commitment to the great commission, to local outreach and worldwide missions.
2. My Perspective: Mergers can be messy and the congregation that comes through a merger is not the same. We will have to change a lot. Here is my perspective:
First, we have the opportunity to either close the book on BCC or close this chapter and begin a new one. Are you familiar with the history of BCC? It began in 1938 with a Sunday school which resulted in being organized as The People’s Church of Bear Creek Valley in 1945, a non-denominational community church. It was pastored by Congregationalists and Methodist until 1952 when it joined what became the United Presbyterian Church. The name changed to Bear Creek Community Presbyterian Church. In 1979 Bear Creek Pres. withdrew from the United Presbyterian Church and remained independent for six years remained independent. Then in March of 1985, we joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and once again changed our name to Bear Creek Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
Nine part-time pastors and numerous other pastors filled the pulpit until 1958 when BCC called their first full-time pastor, John Coad who served for 24 years. Since then, there have been three other full-time pastors and three different interim pastors.
There have been many chapters in the life of BCC – we have had several different names, a couple different affiliations, numerous pastors and countless elders. But there has always been a unifying, compelling vision, a storyline that is best captured in the vision statement carved in stone as we enter our sanctuary: “This building dedicated to claim, to train, and to send forth lives for the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is why this church was begun, that is why it exists today. Now we face the opportunity of beginning a new chapter, and not closing the book on BCC, and carrying on and even fulfill the storyline of the mission of the church in this place.
At the end of the day, we still have one another and we will still have this place and the calling to serve Christ in this place.
3. Where we are in the process now:
a. The initial design was to pursue a merger with TNC, an EPC congregation meeting in Dakota Ridge High School. Met with their leadership for an initial conversation, but by mid-July TNC withdrew.
b. And we were pursued by two other congregations. The Exploratory Committee met with leadership teams from both congregations on two different occasions in order to discern compatibility/desirability.
c. On Monday, September 11, the Exploratory Committee recommended to Session that we pursue a merger with Bridgeway Community Church. That was approved.
d. There is a very close match in DNA with Bridgeway:
• Theologically reformed and evangelical; simple, clear vision that is compatible with ours (We exist to make much of Jesus by making disciples who know, live, and advance the Gospel. KNOW, LIVE, ADVANCE THE GOSPEL); vibrant vision for ministry to a neighborhood (inclusive of commitment to many of the things we are doing); blended-contemporary style of worship; growing, multi-generational congregation with lots of children.
• They are a church plant out of Waterstone and they are currently meeting in the Front Range Christian School facility near Pierce and Coal Mine, and are longing for a neighborhood in which to settle and advance the Kingdom of God.
• James Hoxworth is their pastor, a graduate of Phoenix Seminary, who is theologically reformed and a gifted, winsome evangelist. He has been with Bridgeway for about 3 years. They understand the strategic location of BCC and have a vision for reaching out to this community.
• Announcement from James to his congregation this morning:
Many of you know we’ve been praying and thinking about facility needs for the future. We want to be the best stewards of the time, places, and resources God has given us for maximum Kingdom impact.
As we mature and grow as a congregation I long for us to be planted in a community that we can call home and in which we can invest over the long haul. What initially started as a conversation about potential rental space for our own stewardship and ministry purposes, has turned into a unique opportunity for us in a very unique location.
So, now what is this mystery location/space? Some of you have heard of or even may have attended Bear Creek Church off Kipling and Hampden.
We have been invited into a VERY preliminary conversation with Bear Creek to look into the possibility of their congregation joining Bridgeway.
Bear Creek has had a legacy of Kingdom impact for almost 60 years, and they are looking for a sense of youthfulness and vibrancy and we are willing to see if the potential of bringing two congregations together may have a greater kingdom impact than either church could have on its own.
Again, Bridgeway will be the lead church in this new relationship and Bear Creek will be the joining church. Our mission will stay the same and much of who we are will remain intact, but let's realize that in all merging/joining relationships there will be some changes for us.
The potential in the Bear Creek area is enormous! Immediately across the sidewalk is Bear Creek HS with approximately 1,500 students. Across the street is Bear Creek K-8 with almost 1,200 students. The area around Bear Creek is one the most diverse areas in our little corner of the Denver-metro area. The potential for community outreach and engagement is enormous!
We don’t know where all these conversations will lead, and we don’t have all the answers at this stage. What we do know is that we need prayer so that we might seek what God would have for us and this unique opportunity.
Bridgeway was launched with Kingdom vision, and this idea may have a greater kingdom impact than we could even imagine.
4. What lies ahead?
• We are contracting with Jim Tomberlin of MultiSite Solutions and we will put together a Feasibility Team to work through the Feasibility Phase. This phase will take the month of October at which time we will let you know if this is a go or not. We will address issues of theology, vision, values and strategy; programs and worship; leadership, missionaries, membership; assets, building, name, etc.
• What about our relationship with the EPC? Bridgeway Community Church is not in the EPC; they are an unaffiliated, independent congregation. James and I met with the Stated Clerk and the Chairman of the Ministerial Committee from the Presbytery of the West to talk about our pursuit of a merger and they are supportive and even excited for us! That meeting was wonderfully insightful and helpful! In the event of a merger and the dissolution of Bear Creek Church, we are required by the Book of Government to hold two congregational meetings at least 90 days apart. The first meeting is help to propose a merger and the dissolution of the relationship between BCC and the EPC; that would be framed in the language of a formal motion. The second meeting is to vote on that motion. A two-thirds majority vote is required to pass.
Following this presentation there was a time for questions and answers and many of the questions raised could not be answered until we get through the Feasibility phase, at which time we will publish answers to the most frequently asked questions and we will most likely have another Town Hall type meeting.
Bridgeway Community Church & Bear Creek Church Merger
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
How did this merger idea come about?
What began as a discussion regarding renting space for Bridgeway Community Church blossomed into a conversation about the possibility of merging churches. As the conversations grew, the opportunity to engage the Bear Creek community with a Kingdom vision, bonded the leaders of both churches around a common desire to see people reached for Christ.
Why are we considering a merger?
Since it’s inception in 2014, Bridgeway has been looking for a community in which it could invest and call home over the long haul. Bear Creek Church has almost 70 years of ministry in the Bear Creek area, but has been steadily declining for a number of years and has been without a permanent pastor for nearly two years. A merger is the best option for continued Kingdom service in this community. Bridgeway is a multi-generational and growing church, and is taking the lead in the merger, and Bear Creek is the joining church in what is often called an “adoptive merger”.
What are the benefits of this proposed merger?
Ultimately the benefit of the merger is found in the vision that we can accomplish our mission better together than apart. Through this merger a new, revitalized congregation will emerge with a passion to make much of Jesus in the Bear Creek area. Practically speaking, Bridgeway is in need of a facility and a neighborhood to invest in, and Bear Creek needs an infusion of younger families and vision and leadership. Both can be met with a merger.
What will our Mission be?
Our mission will be to make much of Jesus by making disciples who know, live, and advance the Gospel. We will seek to reach the unchurched in the Bear Creek area, and create a multiplying movement of disciple-making in the spirit of the Great Commission. This mission statement complements and continues the original mission of Bear Creek Church which is "To claim, Train and Send Forth Lives for Jesus Christ."
Will our church have a new name and what will it be?
The churches will unify as one church under the name “The Bridge Church at Bear Creek” aka “The Bridge” or “The Bridge at Bear Creek”. We believe this new name honors both congregations and identifies our mission field.
Who will be the Lead Pastor?
James Hoxworth, the Lead Pastor at Bridgeway, will take on this responsibility and has committed to leading the new congregation forward into becoming one unified congregation focused on making much of Jesus Christ and advancing His Kingdom in the Bear Creek Community.
What will happen to the Bear Creek pastor and current staff of both churches?
We are committed to the healthy and effective employment and deployment of all staff and volunteers. All staff and volunteer positions, from both Bear Creek and Bridgeway will be evaluated to discern what role they may play in the new season of ministry. All staff positions must play a defined role in our mission to Know, Live and Advance the Gospel. Because of duplicated roles in the youth, administrative, and communications areas, these positions will be re-defined, and existing employees are welcome to apply for the new positions. If there is not a role available in the ongoing season of ministry, a severance will be offered. If a staff member chooses not to apply they will be welcome to finish their work in the ministry season in which they served.
It is our intention to have Dan Gardinier remain on staff as a part-time Associate Pastor who will help oversee pastoral care, provide some teaching, and give oversight to the deacon ministry. Also, Nate Ullrich will function as the Executive Pastor, Alicia Petty as Children’s Director, and Michael Raubach as Worship Director.
What will happen to the church board and committees?
Bridgeway’s elder board would assume leadership going forward, and Bear Creek’s elders will be released from their duties, recognizing that leadership of the new congregation belongs to the elders of Bridgeway. Shortly after the merger has taken place The Bridge eldership will invite a Bear Creek member into the elder candidacy process. Deacons currently serving the Bear Creek congregation are welcome to take a deacon role as part of the new congregation to serve alongside the existing Bridgeway deacons. All other committees and boards will dissolve with the legal Bear Creek entity. The members of these committees will have the option to be redeployed to new teams or working committees as needed by the new congregation.
The Feasibility Team that has handled the early stages of the merge will become the “Transition Team” which will be commissioned to integrate the varying aspects of the merger. This team is made up of leadership from both congregations to ensure a healthy transition and integration of both congregations into one. In addition to merger management, this team will also be responsible for giving regular reports to both the congregation and elders.
Will there be any doctrinal or theological changes?
The Bridge at Bear Creek will adopt Bridgeway’s statement of faith and constitution as the doctrinal statement for the new church. (www.bridgewaylittleton.org/beliefs) Bridgeway and Bear Creek have very compatible, broadly reformed, evangelical, and theologically conservative views. Also, the feasibility team and elder teams have reviewed Bridgeway’s statement of Christian doctrine and have no issues with its content.
There are two areas of change that may feel different to some.
1) Bear Creek allows both men and women to serve as elders. Bridgeway allows only men to serve in the role of elder. We recognize that there is sincere disagreement among prayerful, Bible-believing Christians with regard to men’s and women’s roles as elders. The Bear Creek elders are unanimous in moving forward with an understanding that the new church will have only male elders.
2) Bridgeway practices believer’s baptism and infant dedication. Bear Creek believes in infant baptism but practices infant dedication when requested by the parents. The decision to dedicate or baptize children has been left up to the conscience and theological convictions of the parents. Both congregations acknowledge that there is sincere disagreement among prayerful Christians with respect to the Bible’s teaching on baptism.
While The Bridge at Bear Creek will offer infant dedication and believers’ baptism, we acknowledge that there may be instances where families wish to have their child baptized. We also acknowledge that both churches do NOT view baptism as salvific, and therefore will not let baptism become a divisive issue. In the interest of Christian liberty and unity, believing parents should decide, after prayer, study of the Scriptures, and consultation with the elders whether to baptize or dedicate their children.
What will happen to the church’s facilities?
Bridgeway will conclude its current lease and move to the facilities at the current Bear Creek Church campus. Both church boards are currently working in collaboration with legal counsel to define a framework for the transfer of assets into the new church. The Bridge will meet for a few weeks at Bridgeway’s current location at Front Range Christian School, while we give the Bear Creek venue a facelift on things like seating, sound, fresh paint, flooring, signage etc. On Palm Sunday, March 25th, the Bear Creek facility will be the home of the new Bridge at Bear Creek!
Bear Creek has done a great job of maintaining a facility that has served the area for 60+ years, and now we have the chance to do some simple improvements to make the space feel fresh and “new”. The facilities will look and feel different but we're convinced they will be more useful and comfortable.
We have prioritized the following areas:
- Seating, Sound, and Stage Improvements in the Sanctuary
- New Signage both internally and externally
- Fresh paint and flooring in key areas (kids/entry areas) that need touch up
- A safe and newer playground for our kids ministry
What will the worship services be like?
Bridgeway and Bear Creek have very similar worship services. Our combined worship services will incorporate a blend of modern praise music, scripture reading, hymns, expository preaching, confession, communion, and prayer. We view our worship service as the corporate gathering of God’s people where we participate in the grand story of God from creation to consummation. We sing songs that reflect the character and goodness of God. We come under the authority of God’s Word in the preaching, and we celebrate weekly the Lord’s Supper to be reminded of the Gospel, and feed our souls. We are then sent into the world to participate and serve in God’s mission.
Please feel free to attend Bridgeway on a Sunday or listen to James preach online- www.bridgewaylittleton.org/sermons.
How will the budget and finances be managed?
We are one church: one vision, one elder team, one budget, one staff team, and one bank account. Giving, budgets, and current account balances from Bear Creek and Bridgeway will be combined and managed by the newly formed Bridge at Bear Creek administration, pastoral staff, under the oversight of the elders to address the needs and mission of the congregation. Each year we commit at least ten percent of giving to missions. Finances will be also under the guidance of a third party accounting service that works directly with churches.
How will current membership be transferred?
Current members in good standing from Bear Creek and Bridgeway would be granted into the membership of the new church. All members of both Bear Creek and Bridgeway who join in the merger will be expected to attend an orientation class in order to maintain membership in the new congregation, The Bridge at Bear Creek. The purpose of this is to reinforce and educate all members on the vision, mission, and strategy of the new church moving forward. An exception to this requirement will be made for any members who cannot, due to health reasons, attend an orientation class. These members will be grandfathered into membership and will continue to be served by The Bridge.
Will our denomination and affiliations change?
Bear Creek will be dismissed from the Presbytery of the West of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with the blessing of the local leadership. The Bridge at Bear Creek will continue on as a non-denominational congregation under the leadership of the local elders.
What will happen to our supported missionaries and organizations?
All missionary and missions partnerships with both churches would be evaluated by the elders over the next year in light of the Bridge at Bear Creek’s Mission Philosophy and in partnership with an experienced Bear Creek leader. This will help determine what future there would be and how to best adjust the existing relationships if needed in a way that is Christ-honoring.
What will happen to our ministries/programs?
All ministries must clearly fit our mission to Know, Live and Advance the gospel. All ministries from both BCC and BW will be evaluated by a team in regard to alignment with our church mission statement. It is our practice to re-evaluate every program on a yearly basis to make sure that it is accomplishing its goal, and is being conducted with excellence. We commit to a generous and discerning process for each program to ensure the end blended product will best facilitate the accomplishment of our mission.
What will the merger cost? Can we afford it?
The cost of the merger will include consulting, and legal fees, and costs for branding changes. The leadership of both congregations has agreed that the cost is manageable and would not in any way be a hindrance to the merger or subsequent ministry in the Bear Creek community.
We would like to take this opportunity to ask you to participate in a simple capital campaign of which 100% of the funds will go toward making improvements to the current facility.
Bridgeway’s goal is to raise $100,000 in the month of December. We believe this will give us a good start to making some needed improvements, and invest in our new home. We are asking you to do this as a unique contribution that is above and beyond your general giving. Your generosity will be strategically invested into the facility to be a welcoming, warm, and safe place for not only our church but for the community in which we seek to make much of Jesus.
Who will decide if this merger happens?
Both elder teams have given their unanimous approval of the merge, and are encouraging the congregations to move forward in faith that this will be an overwhelmingly positive change that will benefit both churches. To ensure congregational support, both congregations will require a 2/3 majority vote of members (per each constitution) for this merger to continue forward.
If the merger happens, what will change?
The Gospel will never change. The Sunday worship experience may feel different. There will be many new faces and some familiar faces seen in different roles. Someone may sit in your favorite seat. The facility may look, and feel, different. There will be the sound of kids laughing and playing, and new families coming to see what all the excitement is about. The potential for multi-generational ministry will be evident as young and old minister together and care for one another.
Some ministries will continue and other programming may change. The goal is to do all things with excellence and an emphasis on discipleship while we seek to accomplish our mission to make much of Jesus in the Bear Creek area. There will be new opportunities to serve, to reach out, and to fellowship with a larger group of people. We will have greater capacity to reach more people. Change is coming to everyone at Bridgeway and Bear Creek. The biggest change is our combined potential to make a difference. All of us will have to give up some of our own preferences as consumers so that we might be producers of blessings within the lives of others.
What is the timeline for this proposed merger?
* There will also be some other community-building events in January and February. It is our intention to operate by the outlined timeline. We will communicate with members about any material changes.
What happens if the merger is approved? What happens if the merger is not approved?
If the merger is approved, both churches will immediately begin the behind the scenes processes to move forward. With an official launch date of March 4th, there is much to be done to be ready.
If the merger is not approved, it means different things to both churches. Bridgeway will continue to pray for a community to call home. The Session of Bear Creek Church firmly believe that if the merger is not approved by the congregation the Lord has some other alternative for the congregation, and will begin to earnestly seek His will.
What are my next steps?