By Ken Lutes
Generations Church is conducting services in the Sloan Lake neighborhood where members of the Merritt Memorial Methodist Church worshipped from 1902 to 2016.
Founders of Generations Church, Jody and Mandy Earley, were able to rent the Merritt building at 23rd Avenue and Irving Street in July of 2017. They started informal services at their West Highland home in 2015 but soon outgrew the space and began public services at Valdez Elementary School the next year.
The Earleys are pleased with the growth that Generations is experiencing in its current home and consider the growth to be a sign of relevance. The average weekly attendance at Generations is about 65; when Merritt closed, the congregation had fallen well under 15, according to the Rev. Paul Kottke, United Methodist Church’s district superintendent at the time. He also stated that church attendance in the U.S. was trending downward, a sign of the “saturated lives” people have these days.
“A lot of connection and community does happen on line and at meetups where people find community in different ways,” Jody Earley says, “but the message and purpose of the church is as relevant as it has always been.
“There are many metrics by which to measure the success of a church. Although church attendance [in the U.S.] is declining, one of the things for us is being the church to our community. We’re not just waiting for people to show up on Sunday morning. We’re more intentional about reaching the community outside of these four walls.”
The Earleys believe that what keeps a church relevant is a sincere connection to its community and the commitment to service. In the church parking lot is the church’s white truck/van with “Hope” painted on its sides.
“In September,” said Mandy Earley, “we’ll use the Hope truck to help get 10,000 bags of non-perishable food to families in need, and to food banks as well. We try to be supportive of what people are doing, to let them know we appreciate them and that there’s no strings attached.”
“We’ve taken cookies to North High, Edison Elementary, Lake Middle School, Fire House 12, and the District 1 Police Department,” Jody Earley said. “The Hope truck could also be used to help someone less fortunate to move. We plan to fill it with school supplies for schools this fall.”
The Earleys met in their home state of Oklahoma in 1998 at a church summer camp. “We married in 1999 and had our first child while living in Tulsa,” Jody Earley said. “We thought we’d spend the rest of our lives in Tulsa. Then we felt a calling to move out, but we didn’t know where.”
In 2003, they found themselves serving at a church in Gaithersburg, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C.
“It was in the process of moving to Maryland that we thought maybe someday, several years in the future, we would pastor a church, which in today’s vernacular is called ‘planting a church.’
“Thirteen years later, we ended up here in Denver, with our four girls, all of whom go to public schools,” said Mandy Earley. “We really just fell in love with the city.” Looking for a family-oriented community, the first neighborhood that stood out to them was Stapleton; another was Washington Park.
“One day,” Jody Earley said, “we were in Highlands Square [32nd and Lowell], and we felt this was the neighborhood we were supposed to be in. A door to opportunity opened, and we ended up with a house in West Highland in 2015.”
Mandy Earley says they operate the church like they do their family. “Jody and I lead the church together. In our home, where we have our four daughters, we make decisions together. We work together, side by side, and bring our own strengths to the table. My background is in early childhood development. I help with kids and lead in a lot of areas.
“I think the church is beautiful when both men and women work in partnership to bring their strengths to the table, and I think that’s been one of the greatest changes that I’ve seen in the church.”
“We are a Christian church, but not a church just for Christians,” Jody Earley said. “Whether people are skeptical, or have a different faith background or maybe no faith background, they are welcome. We are intentional about being a place where people can belong even if they are unsure what they believe.”
When Merritt Church closed in 2016, the property was sold to developer Lance Nading, who intended to convert the interior of the historic church and the adjacent building into a community coworking space. Nading says that’s still his long-term plan, but right now there’s no hard timeline.
“The more time the Earleys have to grow their church, the stronger they’ll be when they do leave,” he said.
Former longtime members of Merritt Methodist Church, Shirley and Mary (last names not given), regularly attend Generations Church. Jody Easley said they told him as long as there’s a church at 23rd and Irving, they’ll come.
“I like to believe that the founding members from 1902 are looking down and smiling on us and cheering us on,” he said.
For more information on Generations Church, visit www.generations.city.