Years ago, Glenn Packiam was leading Sunday night services at Colorado Springs' most famous megachurch. Looking out at the audience — mostly people who weren't able or didn't want to make the big Sunday morning service — he began to ponder the physical location of his church, on the margin of the city.
New Life Church's iconic white-peaked worship center is located at 11025 Voyager Parkway, on the far north end of town. While Packiam had been with New Life since 2000, shortly after he graduated from college, he says he'd always been more drawn to downtown Colorado Springs.
"I feel more comfortable around some of the art culture downtown, some of the maybe, less close-mindedness," he says.
A lot of people in downtown, he knew, didn't want to trek all the way to New Life for Sunday morning services; it seemed distant both physically and culturally. People living farther away — maybe to the south or up Ute Pass — were even less likely to make the trip. But, he wondered, what if New Life came to them?
Out of this pondering, New Life Downtown was conceived four years ago. Housed in Palmer High School, Packiam's two Sunday services are now crowded with a total of more than 1,000 people. So, when Dr. Joe Kirkendall, a college pastor for the church, asked to add a service in his longtime home city of Manitou Springs, New Life's Lead Pastor Brady Boyd was on board. The Sunday services will be held once a month in Manitou City Hall, starting on Easter Sunday. Kirkendall has been named pastor for the service.
Boyd says he's open to more new locations if parishioners want to open services elsewhere, though there's no plan. It's important to Boyd, however, that people understand that New Life isn't trying to invade areas of town where it isn't wanted.
"We have people already living there that want us to come, so we're not barging in," he says.
Boyd says the church hopes to prove it can be a valuable part of the community, by helping Manitou with issues like homeless outreach and flood control projects. Discussions on how the church might help are in their infancy, but he says, "We're there to be a help. Our slogan is, 'We're in the city for the sake of the city.'"
Manitou Mayor Nicole Nicoletta says allowing New Life to use city hall was "a no-brainer." While she received some letters of opposition, she says New Life is paying normal rental fees for a room that holds about 300 people, and the city attorney explained to her that Manitou cannot discriminate against renters based on political or religious beliefs. Manitou's council approved a five-month lease.
Nicoletta adds that she would welcome any help that New Life is willing to provide to the town.
"We can use all the help we can get," she says. "I don't care what the organization is; this community needs to be open to all people."
The downtown New Life congregation has proven to be helpful at Palmer. School District 11 spokesperson Devra Ashby says New Life parishioners have volunteered at the high school, sprucing up interiors and doing landscaping work. New Life also pays over $116,000 a year to D-11 to rent the space and pay for district staff needed to manage the space while in use. The money pays the salaries of those workers, and other D-11 "rental" employees, and provides extra money to Palmer for expenses like equipment upgrades. For instance, some of the money went to buy a sound system for the cafeteria.
Packiam says his own congregation has a different "vibe" from New Life's north campus. Many people ride bikes or walk to church when the weather is good. The music is more acoustic, rather than the harder rock that's common at the north campus. And Packiam says that's kind of the point. The downtown and Manitou locations don't have to be mini-New Lifes. They become whatever the congregation wants.
"It's not like the circus," he says, "coming in, putting up the tent, bringing the show and viola, we've got New Life downtown! We're really trying to be attentive — to see, like who are the people who are coming to this?"
To some, that might seem like the antithesis of what they remember New Life as, especially during its political heyday under disgraced former pastor Ted Haggard. But Boyd has purposely been a quieter leader than Haggard, saying from the beginning he wanted to bring New Life back to its Christian roots. Under his leadership, for instance, the church has opened, and is in the process of expanding, transitional housing for homeless mothers.
"We're trying to rebuild some of the reputation that the Christian community had with the civic community," Boyd says.
Packiam says he hopes that people will give New Life a chance to show that they can be a positive, subdued influence on communities.
"I get why New Life has the reputation that it does. I was around in those years, you know?" he says. "But I think to a certain degree ... we are learning to become better listeners in our community.
"I think for a lot of years, New Life was sort of interested in being a megaphone, you know. And we're not. And I think a lot of that's changed under Brady's leadership."