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The Flock that Rocks- Ryan Heller and The Edge Church
By Tim St. John
Originally Published in the Denver Baptist Examiner
Dave Evans, the innovative U2 guitarist, is more commonly known by his stage name, The Edge. It’s said that one of the inspirations for the nickname was that he stays in the background at the edge of things. When Ryan Heller chose The Edge for the name of his 2009 church plant in the Southlands area of South East Denver, it wasn’t for the church to stay in the background. Heller said,
“We wanted a name that represented the vision and values of the church with the people God was calling us to reach. We wanted to reach people who were on the edge of faith, on the edge of divorce, on the edge of addiction or on the edge of whatever it may be.”
Heller’s journey to Denver began in Texas. The Dallas native grew up in a strong church environment with parents who taught Sunday School and were influential in him accepting Christ as Savior at the age of eight. He attended Christian schools, was on the track team for two years at East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas (now Texas A&M - Commerce), he then transferred to Texas A&M University in College Station where he received a BA degree in speech communications. Telling of his call into the ministry, he reveals:
“When I was a senior in high school, I felt God was calling me into the ministry. It really scared me because nobody in my family has ever been a pastor or minister before. And even though I’d grown up in church, I wasn’t even sure what pastors did. I took my last year of high school and my first two years of college to really think and pray about it. On campus, I was leading Bible studies, leading my friends to the Lord, I was preaching and it seemed like a natural, normal thing to happen. Then, by the end of my second year in college, I began to realize that maybe this was God’s confirmation of calling me into the ministry. At that point I had no doubt that I was going to be a pastor and I was going to preach. I wanted to lead a lot of people to the Lord. When I was about 20 years old, I was really certain what I was going to do with the rest of my life and that’s what I’ve stayed focused on the last 20 years.”
After graduating from Texas A&M, Heller enrolled at Southwest Seminary in Forth Worth and received his Master of Divinity degree. While in seminary, he served as a college pastor at a church in Dallas. He moved to Austin and ministered to University of Texas students while serving at Hyde Park Baptist Church. In five years there, the ministry saw over 500 decisions for Christ.
Heller left Austin to plant Fellowship of Stonebridge church in McKinney, Texas on the northeastern edge of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. He and his wife Gena, (who holds a music degree from Dallas Baptist University and sings and leads worship) led the church from 2003 to 2008 before he felt God calling him in a new direction and said,
“We felt like God was calling us to come to the Western United States because there are so few churches here. When we began to learn about the need to come out here and reach a lot of people who didn’t go to church, it really moved us. I started talking to some friends who were pastors here and other leaders. We felt like there would be an opportunity to help a lot of people find faith in Christ in a region where there is a great need.”
Ryan and Gena Heller arrived in Denver in October of 2008. They now have a son, Zayne who is 4 years old and daughter Bryn who is 3.
In 2008, they looked at the areas of Stapleton, Parker and Southlands to plant a church. The Southlands area of Denver metro reminded Heller of the community in McKinney – suburban, a lot of young families and new growth with a lot of new families moving to the area. His family was around the same age as most of the other families in the community and their kids were similar in age to others as well. In June of 2009, they held the first service with 215 in attendance. After one service in June they held two in August and began full monthly services in September. Attendance leveled out at 100, then grew to 200. Last fall it averaged 250 and is now averaging 300. The first Sunday in March, the church had 355 in the worship service. It was the largest non-Easter attendance and there were 7 decisions for Christ and 2 Baptisms.
It’s hard to believe a church can be started from scratch and have over 200 in attendance the first time the doors open. The phenomenal growth in just over two years might seem difficult to explain but Heller says,
“I shook hands with over a thousand people before we had our first service. We formed a database of names by doing listing surveys and knocking on hundreds of doors meeting people. We asked them what they thought some of the needs were in the community and if they were going to attend a church, what type of church would it be. We held a number of block parties in the parks and kid’s sports camps and outreach events where we met tons of people. I went into Starbucks everyday to meet people and pass out my business cards. I believe the power of personal invitation is important and the lead pastor has to set the example and pace on that and it’s been fruitful.”
When Heller landed in Denver, he contacted numerous churches in surrounding Colorado Baptist Associations to help partner with him. Jim Walters, Senior Pastor at Bear Valley Church in Lakewood, had this to say about Heller’s efforts,
“I’m very encouraged by Ryan Heller, who came up from Texas and told us what he was going to do. All of us said, ‘that will never work here’. He did everything we told him not to do and it worked great. In days gone by, we believed that a church planter needed to have a sponsored church and maybe a second partner. Now we believe they need to have a sponsored church and ten partners.”
Several churches in Denver have partnered with The Edge and sent mission teams to help with their community projects. Ken Caryl, Bear Valley, Trinity Baptist of Aurora, North Metro in Thornton and even Fellowship of the Rockies in Pueblo participated. These teams of volunteers worked in the children’s ministry on Sunday mornings, greeted people as they arrived, helped with block parties and knocked on doors during the week.
The church began meeting at Coyote Hills Elementary School but soon outgrew the facility when it added a second service. The congregation now meets at Liberty Middle School. In the two and a half years since its inception, The Edge Church has seen over 300 decisions for Christ.
Recently, the church’s website was recognized by churchrelevance.com as one of the top 22 church websites in the world. Heller attributes this to the life changing stories featured on their home page. Church members share their stories of how Christ changed their life through The Edge Church.
The Edge’s mission mindset is multiplication – adding services, leaders, home groups, campuses and churches. They want to create every avenue and opportunity for people to hear the Good News and experience the Jesus of the Bible. Internationally, the church is helping orphans in Haiti with clothing and helping a group in Swaziland plant and develop gardens for people who are hungry and need jobs.
One of the church’s mottos is “no perfect people allowed”. They want the community to know their doors are open to everyone from all walks of life that are struggling with any issues, no matter what type or how severe. Worshiping together, everyone experiences the life changing power of Jesus Christ.
Heller says The Edge is known as “the flock that rocks”, a reference to the music in the worship service that’s high energy, upbeat, modern and progressive. By definition, progressive or progressive change means, “promoting or favoring progress toward better conditions or new policies, ideas or methods”. It shouldn’t matter what style of worship, hymns versus contemporary, suit wearing versus jeans, etc., as long as the Gospel is being preached with sound doctrine and theology. Ryan Heller is sound in both of these and is reaching the surrounding community – advancing the Kingdom with the Gospel.
Ryan Heller and The Edge Church should be a model for church planters. With the success rate of new church plants being such a low percentage, pastors embarking on plants of their own should seek out Heller and hang on to his coattails. Heller’s encouragement for new church planters is, “Always be ready to change if things aren’t working. Spend time with the best leaders who are successful. Don’t give up”.
In the opening paragraph, U2 and lead guitarist, The Edge were mentioned. On the group’s 1980 debut album “Boy” is a song called “I Will Follow”. Part of the lyrics are, “I was on the outside when you said you needed me…if you walk away, I will follow.”
Ryan Heller took his needs for planting a church to God in prayer. When he left Dallas for Denver, God followed and answered his prayers by filling The Edge Church with the Holy Spirit.
Worship Location: Liberty Middle School, 21500 E. Dry Creek Rd, Aurora, CO 80016
Sunday’s at 9:30am and 11:00am
6140 K6 S. Gun Club Road #139
Aurora, CO 80016