"In the beginning of COVID and throughout, we've made it a point to film a lot of our services and our worship at local businesses. It gave us a good opportunity to really connect with our community and our small businesses owners who were being greatly impacted."
Pete Heiniger is an executive pastor at Discovery Church Colorado in Colorado Springs. With an open-door, “come-as-you-are” philosophy, Discovery Church is committed to a mission of rescue, where any person who walks in the doors knows that their story is safe — no matter their past or previous experience in the church.
Like many other churches impacted by COVID-19, Discovery Church had to close its doors and make the transition to online services. In this episode, Pete takes our conversation down a different path, focusing less on the pandemic’s effects on business operations and more on the implications it had on their ministry efforts and the community’s spiritual health.
Listen to our conversation to learn how the church discovered new ways to build community and reach their neighbors in a time of need. Browse our full COS in COVID miniseries for more pandemic stories and interviews.
Joe: Hi there. I’m Joe Dudeck, president and founder of Keyhole Marketing.
Shannon: And I’m Shannon Jirik. I work for Keyhole as the assistant brand manager.
Joe: And this is Metaphorically Speaking, a podcast that explores the mysterious side of marketing.
Shannon: Welcome back to Metaphorically Speaking, where we are continuing our Cause and COVID miniseries. We are chatting with Pete, who is an executive pastor at the Discovery Church in Colorado Springs for this episode.
Joe: I feel like this is the bad side of podcast, when you can’t see somebody’s face the whole time, because Pete’s got such an amazing beard.
Shannon: You have beard envy?
Joe: I do, I do. I can grow mine out pretty long, but there’s just something impressive. He’s got a nice flow to his, it’s wavy, it’s just thick, it just fills in all the right places.
Joe: It’s pretty amazing. This is when I wish you could see his face during the podcast.
Shannon: Yeah, go look him up, right?
Joe: For sure.
Shannon: Pete, we’re grateful for your conversation, and also Joe, for your beard.
Joe: For your beard.
Shannon: Thank you for that inspiration you’ve provided him.
Joe: For sure.
Shannon: Well, if you’re a church goer or not, likely you know that church was a big thing that was affected by COVID. Obviously, most churches had to shut their doors due to the virus, and Discovery Church was no different, in that regard. This conversation with Pete was really telling, to get behind the scenes of what happened at a church in the time of COVID, how they had to transition very quickly when people couldn’t come into the church, and that’s a huge part of what they do.
Joe: Yeah, for sure. Church is a big thing around here in Colorado Springs. Even if you don’t go, there just seems to be one on every corner around here. You know somebody who does, or you drive past 10 everywhere you leave the house. I think what always stood out to me about Discovery Church is just how different they do it, and how intentionally different they do it. I mean, they really try to seek out, just connect with people who’ve either been hurt by the church in the past, or have maybe not darkened the door of a church in a long time. I think they do a good job, as they describe rescuing people who are just hung up, or hurt by the church.
I love what he said in this podcast about … What’s also great that they do is they’re really connected to the community, and they don’t just say that a lot. A lot of churches try to do that, “Hey, let’s get involved in the community.” But they’re really active, working with schools and businesses. He mentioned in here that once they got up and running with their technology and were able to do more, figured out what that online streaming experience was going to look like and some enhancements they should make, they started hosting these at small businesses as a way to remind us, as a community, to go out and support the small guy, the small operation, who is dependent on people showing up.
Not only did they host their church service in their location, but they spent a little bit of time talking to the business owner, hearing more about their story. I thought that was just such a creative spirit, and again, put themselves in action as far as their support of the local community.
Shannon: Absolutely. So often, there seems to be this division between those two, the church and the business world or something.
Shannon: We’re grateful to Pete for sharing his story, and just the experience that Discovery Church is having. We hope you guys enjoy the conversation.
Joe: Pete, thanks so much for joining me today, I really appreciate your time. I’ve been doing all of these interviews, just to get a sense of about who your business is and that sort of thing. So you being a church, talk a little bit about how long you’ve been around. Why do you exist? It seems like an obvious question, but I’d love to know why Discovery Church exists.
Pete Heiniger: Yeah. I think we’ve been around for quite a while. I think our senior pastor Greg celebrated, what was it? Two years ago was his 10 year, so we’re in that 12 to 13th year with Greg here as our lead pastor. The church was started about three years previous to that. We’ve been around for a while. It’s been mostly Greg, over the long haul, the last decade, as a lead pastor.
Really, it started with … the first question that everybody has is, “Does Colorado Springs need yet another church?” I think the answer was we want to be a place where rescue was the cornerstone of everything that we did, people’s story could be safe. We really exist in that space of your story is safe here, no matter how that reads. We just are chasing a lot of people who probably don’t know, maybe haven’t opened a Bible, don’t know much about Jesus, if anything. Or, they’ve gone through some church hurt or church wounding in the past, and walked away from church altogether for quite a while. We really exist in that space of starting with rescue. How can we help you look at your story, look at that wounding? At least apply some basic, almost like a combat medic, we’re going to help you stop the bleeding, we’re going to help you start to return to health.
And then, a lot of the people who continue to stay here are people who have experienced that rescue in their life, and then feel compelled and led by God to rescue others. I think that’s where we get our retention from.
In a nutshell, I think when we went through the rebrand about a year and a half ago, we put the red cross in everything that we did, just because of rescue being front and center on everything we do.
Joe: Yeah. Well, that’s certainly a unique segment of the crowd. I guess you could easily say you’re going after everybody, but to know those people who have been harmed, or as you said, it’s been a long time since they ever stepped foot through the door of a church, that’s definitely a unique segment, and glad you guys are finding a way to reach them.
Joe: What happened during COVID to you guys? How was your church immediately impacted by that? You can make assumptions of the doors were closed right away and those types of things, but how did that play out? What was the timeline? And where are you at today, I guess, a little bit?
Pete: Yeah. I mean, I remember when we first were hearing Governor Polis was going to potentially put a stay at home order in, and we had gotten some news just briefly ahead of that, maybe two or three days before the announcement was going to go out. It was an extremely challenging moment, I’m sure for everyone, but from our perspective, I think one of the things that we realized is that our online crowd was really a livestream. It was like, “Hey, we’re going to turn on a camera and a microphone, and you’re just going to get what we’re doing.” We had not designed the online experience to the degree where we sat there, and we were really making sound optimal, making sure that our angles with our cameras were optimal for online viewing.
For us, from that standpoint I think we had to go in and say, “What is El Paso County Public Health going to allow us? What kind of crew are they going to allow us to have?” It was a very limited crew that could just, basically, if we could pull of an online, who was needed in that group? That was the number. I think what we learned, too, is an auditorium is great to be set up for a live audience, but if we’re going to be completely online then we’ve probably got to find some other options.
For us, it was retooling our entire production team, our worship team, and then making sure they’re in a safe environment. Everything was so brand new. Now, we talk about masks, and washing your hands and everything, and distancing, but way back then, none of those things were … It was just everybody was in the wild, wild West, so trying to do your best to say, “Let’s be safe.” But, the stay at home order, there wasn’t a mask requirement, there wasn’t really anything. It was do our best to make sure we were environments that had as few people as possible.
But yeah, it was a big initial challenge to make the switch. We love it, because I think it really helped us understand how to treat that like our second campus. The online experience is something that we’ve poured into, and really tried to get excellent at, and from all angles. We spent a lot of time, through COVID, trying to perfect that.
Joe: What do you offer today? Is it a split, some in-person and some online? Or, how does that work?
Pete: Yeah. Finally, we got a variance that was given to a bunch of churches in Colorado Springs, us included, submitted something to El Paso County Public Health. And then, the city basically had to go and vote on it, so you had them vote on it. Then, as they pushed it up the chain, then it would get approved, so that gave us numbers that we could hit.
Yeah, we’re doing in-person, but very limited. You have to do online registration, so we’re using Brushfire for online registration. Which they’ve been so nice to pivot, because they were a big concert entity for ticketing but they’ve worked with us, hand-in-hand a lot of times, sitting on the phone with developers trying to ask, “How do we give you an outline of our auditorium, and seating?” Yeah, the online is still there, 90% of our people are still watching and viewing online, on the livestream. That’s still true, a lot of people are hesitant to come back under that. And then of course, you hit that summer month anyway, where things dip, and people are doing more things outside. There’s a lot of that.
Yeah, the in group is interesting, because I’d say 60% of the people who started coming in-person are new to DCC. They found us online during COVID, during the shutdown when all we could do was online. Then, we had done some television broadcasts there, too, so they learned about us. And then when we opened up, and could have in-person, then we got them.
Yeah, it’s a blend. It just doubles the work, really substantially because you’re just doing both. Video rendering and stuff like that really had to get beefed up, because the turnaround to get a service in. We’ve actually instituted a week delay.
Joe: Oh, okay.
Pete: If you’re watching livestream, you’re watching the previous week. What we did is we put the sermons up on demand, so after the 11 o’clock service on Sunday we will put everything on demand, quickly, so that if you were there that Sunday and wanted to watch the sermon, you could watch it right away, so as quickly as we can turn it around. But, if you’re going to tune in, we just try to tell everyone, “Hey, you’re going to be a week behind.” But that just allows us to make it excellent, and make sure it’s rendered correctly, and get everything done.
Joe: Yeah. Obviously, the end is so unknown with this whole pandemic. Do you anticipate these being some longer terms shifts in how you serve people? Or, if everything were to return to some sort of normalcy tomorrow, would you go back to the previous model?
Pete: Yeah. We created a phrase across the executive team and that is, “We’re never going to go back.” It forced us to up our game in a lot of areas. It also forced us, I think, to look at how do we establish touch points and connection when we don’t have a weekend service to connect with everyone on. How does that happen? What are people willing to do?
Yeah. If they were to turn around and remove all restrictions, we’d still pursue excellence on the weekend here in person, but we would still create a high level of online because I think we’re probably going to see an uptick in the number of people who continue to stay online, even if restrictions were removed.
Joe: Right, right. You talked about the rescue mission. I don’t know, have you seen a change in what people are needing to be rescued from since the pandemic? Maybe what they were coming to you before, and what they need help from now.
Pete: Yeah. I mean, it’s an uptick, and significantly different. For our care team, Brooke Archuleta is our head of our care team, we just had an all staff local drawn down because of COVID retreat, so we just did it locally and we did it in the building, but we had a staff retreat. I know, sitting down and really getting some personal time with Brooke, she’s just bombarded with counseling sessions, and talking with people, and meeting with people for coffee because people are in that mode of, “I need a connection point, I feel depressed.” Especially with people who typically struggled with depression, PTSD, different things like that, where this is elevating that anxiety level, has really upticked our need for care. Her care team is extremely busy in trying to provide that type of care.
That’s been a huge uptick, where we probably had a significant amount more than maybe some other churches, but now you could see that she’s at least, just personally, 35 hours a week just in one-on-ones, which is a huge uptick for her. And then, she has a team of 60 people, and they’re all meeting with people. We definitely saw a need for care to be addressed.
And I think then, financially and benevolence has been another thing that has certainly been an impact here. I think people existed for a while under that stay at home order for a little bit, but pretty soon people got furloughed, or they were getting their hours greatly reduced, and things like that. There was certainly a high need for us to come alongside some families, and make sure their needs are getting met. And then also, to partner with all of our partners in town to address that for the city, too.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Has Brooke and her team had to make some adjustments to how they connect with people, to do both in-person and digital?
Pete: Yeah. Yeah, especially in the beginning because it was just Zoom calls are so hard to offer care through, but it’s at least a view into they feel like they have somebody that they can see, and look at, and know that they are cared for, and cared about, and seen. Zoom calls and stuff like that became a really big aspect of care. And even now, there’s still a lot of reluctance for people to even maybe go out for coffee, or show up at the building and meet, so there’s certainly a lot of that still going on.
Joe: Yeah, I think it seems to be the biggest unknown, as far as on a personal level. Unlike physical traits, physical characteristics, testing that can be done from a physical standpoint of, “Did you have it? What kind of symptoms have you had?” Just that mental and spiritual realm, from this whole pandemic, is so hard to track, and the longterm effects of that, that’ll be so interesting to pay attention to on the long run.
Just the last question. What are some of the biggest, I don’t know, lessons you’ve experienced as a team? Good and bad, some of the challenges you’ve had, but also some of the maybe biggest surprises you’ve learned along the way.
Pete: Yeah. I think, for one, we really learned that for us, God doesn’t get diminished just because our ability to gather together is limited. So I think that was one where I think, when you are used to being here on the weekends, and trying to pull of something with excellence, and do so many things, and kids programs and stuff like that, I think the real big thing was trying to say, “Hey, this could go on for a number of unknown months, or even a year, so we’ve got to look at how God’s going to work in a different way, and through different means.” That doesn’t mean less, it actually can be bigger and better.
For us, I think the biggest lesson was really trusting and leaning into that, that hey, rather than feel depressed, and frustrated, and everything, it was, “Hey, this gives us a great new opportunity to connect with people in a different way than we ever have.” I think that was a big one.
I think being able to approach people on … How do you make digital, and online, and virtual as personable and one-on-one as you can? So how do we close the distance between people?
And then, I think the other thing was how do we invest in our community? Our businesses are getting hit. In the beginning of COVID and throughout, we’ve made it a point to film a lot of our services and our worship at local businesses, because at the time they were closed down, or very limited. So we could go in and we could film at the Wild Goose, and we could film at Brother Luck’s restaurants, and we could film at Building Three Coffee, and stuff like that. It provided a great opportunity for us to show, hey you’re seen, and we care about you, and give them a voice. We used them in our introductions, and let them talk about what they’re going through. But, it gave us a good opportunity to really connect with our community and our small business owners who are being greatly impacted. That was a big deal.
I think the biggest takeaway from it, though, has been how important community is. I think we all felt it, even though we could get together as a staff, being an exempt group we could have at least some closeness, it still wasn’t the same. I think just the importance of really doing as much as we can to continue to learn how do we build community in different ways. I think it’s time for us to reinvent a lot of things.
Joe: For sure, for sure. Well, I just love what you guys are doing for the community, your creativity, just your desire to connect with people in unique ways, and people who’ve been turned off by the church a long time ago. Just thanks for what you guys are doing, and finding new ways to get connected with people. I look forward to seeing where you guys go from here.
Shannon: You’ve been listening to the “COS and COVID” miniseries on the Metaphorically Speaking Podcast. At Keyhole Marketing, we tell big stories for small businesses.
If you’re in the Colorado Springs area and struggling to tell your story in this season, we’d love to come alongside you and help you with your content, branding, SEO, social media, or photography needs.
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