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How our modest mountain city became Christianity Central

It was the late 1980s, and the Colorado Springs economy had catapulted off the road, turned end-over-end and was lying in the ditch.

The city's main industry, defense contracting, had veered south. The Savings & Loan scandal also had taken its toll, leaving the Springs with the dubious nickname of "foreclosure capital of the country."

Community and economic-development leaders were scrambling. They realized the need to diversify or wither. High-tech companies came into vogue. As did religious nonprofits.

At the time, there was a woman working at the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., whose job was to attract businesses. The woman's name was Alice Worrell, and she was a very devout evangelical Christian.

Why not, Worrell wondered, woo religious nonprofits to Colorado Springs? The city was already home to several such groups, including The Navigators and Young Life, as well as numerous other nonreligious nonprofit groups, like the U.S. Olympic Committee and many of its sports' national governing bodies, Junior Achievement, the American Numismatic Association and the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

Nonprofits were considered good, clean businesses to attract, both for the environment and the community. Having them clustered allows them to network, which is good for them. Plus, having groups base their national and international headquarters in Colorado Springs certainly serves to elevate the city's profile.

And so the idea was born. With the help of a $4 million grant from the prestigious El Pomar Foundation, Focus on the Family relocated to Colorado Springs from its birthplace of Arcadia, Calif. Focus began building its massive new campus just off Interstate 25 at Briargate Boulevard, with enough incoming and outgoing mail to warrant its own ZIP code.

Others followed, giving Colorado Springs several new nicknames, depending on your political and ideological bent. One was "Wheaton of the West" in reference to Wheaton, Ill., where evangelical Christian organizations also have congregated. But Colorado Springs also got pegged as the derogatory "Belly of the Beast"after Colorado voters passed Amendment 2 in 1992, which prohibited gays and lesbians from seeking protected legal status. (That law, since ruled unconstitutional, received much support from the then-newly arrived Focus on the Family.)

Colorado Springs is now home to dozens of religious nonprofit groups, including the International Bible Society, the Christian Missionary Alliance, Every Home For Christ and the Christian Booksellers Association.

They range from small operations with just a handful of employees to the massive Compassion International ministry, which is devoted to breaking the cycle of poverty for children around the globe in Jesus' name.

Most of the organizations are nowhere close to being as political as Focus on the Family, which currently employs 1,300.

  • How our modest mountain city became Christianity Central

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