When Rocky Mountain Ministry Network Superintendent Gene Roncone asked Steve Chavez to accompany him on a church visit in Walsenburg, Colorado, Chavez wasn’t sure what to expect. However, a short time after the visit began, Chavez found himself with a second church.
Since 2013, Chavez, the East Slope executive presbyter for the ministry network, has been lead pastor of Praise Church in Pueblo, Colorado, having served on the staff prior to that for nearly two decades. When Roncone spoke with him, he came to understand that the Walsenburg church — about 50 miles south of Pueblo — was struggling and could use some guidance.
“Steve and I have been close friends for decades,” Roncone says. “As our network is really stretched out — 800 miles across and crosses two states — I’ve been emphasizing community to our churches: stronger together, in this together. So, as the pastor of a larger church and an executive presbyter, Steve agreed to join me as we wanted to see a Spirit-filled work continue in Walsenburg.”
Walsenburg is a small community of about 3,000 people in scenic southern Colorado, but the city is one of the poorest communities in the state. When the men entered the church, there were only six or seven people there, and that included the pastor. The church was physically in poor shape and Roncone notes that two of the people attending had left the church long ago, but were only present because he invited them to the meeting.
During the meeting, Roncone and Chavez confirmed that the current pastor was leaving in two weeks to take another pastorate and there was no plan in place for replacing him.
“This church wasn’t just struggling,” Chavez says. “It was two weeks from being dead.”
Chavez, realizing the dire situation, suddenly felt compelled to make an offer to the remaining congregants.
“They had nothing, no plan for the church,” he recalls. “So, I said, ‘Folks, we’re from a different city, but will you let us help you with a plan? Would you be open to that?’ They were!”
When Chavez offered to help, Roncone felt that there was now hope for the Walsenburg church.
“I was excited,” Roncone says. “I know Steve well enough that if he said it, he was going to do it. The need was so great, but I know Steve and know his character, so I knew he was going to see it through and not get discouraged.”
Following Chavez’s meeting with his church board, who enthusiastically supported the idea, Pueblo Praise took over the leadership of the church.
“We began to send one of our pastors to preach there in two-week intervals,” Chavez says, “but then I got this urging in my spirit that we could do more.”
The church staff began to put together work teams to help improve the condition of the Walsenburg facility. But what was a little unexpected was the immediate and ongoing excitement for the Walsenburg church and the number of Pueblo Praise people wanting to volunteer.
“One of our sayings at the church is Discover, Develop, and Do,” Chavez says. “The people at Pueblo were so excited about helping out the Walsenburg church, it seemed everyone was wanting to volunteer and we were having to turn people away — the Walsenburg church building couldn’t hold that many workers.”
So, in teams of 25 or so, volunteers began to clean out, repair, and repaint the facility in Walsenburg. “The cleaning out took more time than we anticipated,” Chavez says. “There was so much stuff that needed to be thrown away — outdated foods, broken equipment, and things that looked like they hadn’t been touched in years.”
This past December, after weeks of work on the Walsenburg church, an open house was held at the facility – families in the area were invited to attend and enjoy a festive party that came complete with presents for the children.
“We had about 150 people who came and each child that came received three or four presents while we served food in the parking lot (as COVID restrictions were still required in Colorado at the time),” says Juanita Blevins, the small groups pastor and events coordinator at Pueblo. “It was a great opportunity to just connect with people and love on them.”
As the new year began, Chavez says God once again started speaking to his heart. It was time to move from rotating pastors through the Walsenburg church and establish an official campus pastor.
“I was listening to the Lord and hearing the hearts of my staff,” says Chavez, who notes that all of his staff reported how much they enjoyed ministering at the Walsenburg church. “But then God put it in my spirit — she’s (Blevins) the one.”
Blevins, who has served at Pueblo for 20 years, broke into tears when Chavez offered her the position — it was what God had been preparing her for.
“Six months ago, I knew that I wanted to go (pastor at Walsenburg), Blevins says. “And God just opened the door for me to go and be the campus pastor . . . and God is already doing wonderful things here and continues to do them in Pueblo.”
Working with pastor Rob Reyes in Celebrate Recovery (a 12-step recovery ministry), having administrative duties at the church, while also being the small groups pastor at Pueblo, Blevins has made many connections. The connections have proven beneficial as she has seen the volunteers continue to flow into the Walsenburg church, especially for worship.
“We’ve had the Celebrate Recovery worship team, made up of people in recovery from addictions, leading worship here at the church as well as the youth worship team,” Blevins says.
When asked about the congregation’s response to those in recovery from addiction leading worship, Blevins quickly dismissed any concerns.
“God powerfully uses the words of their testimonies to bring encouragement and healing right to where the people are,” she says.
Currently the church is averaging about 15 to 20 people a week — a statistically significant increase, especially considering that two of the original six members have passed away and two more moved away. Yet, even though the church is still small, Blevins feels right at home and enjoys the smaller setting. However, as the church continues to reach out and connect with the community, she believes more people will begin to call the Walsenburg campus “home.”
“I love small communities and small churches,” Blevins says. “My husband, Eric (self-employed) has family in New Mexico, and every time we drove through here on the way to visit, I would tell him I would love to live in Walsenburg some day . . . and God just opened the doors.”
Both Chavez and Blevins, however, continue to marvel at the willingness of the Pueblo congregation to be involved in the ongoing restoration of the Walsenburg church — generously and eagerly giving of their time, talents, and finances (tens of thousands of dollars) to see it happen.
“It’s like we have this large church where we have so many people who feel overlooked as they’ve been praying for God to use them, but they’re not sure how in a large church,” Blevins observes. “Then we have this small church who’s been praying for help, but feels overlooked because the church is so small . . . and now we’ve brought those two churches together, and needs are being met and prayers answered on both sides — it’s beautiful.”
Roncone who visited the Walsenburg church just a few weeks ago says the church has been transformed.
“The place has been painted, cleaned up, and when you walk in it’s a whole different vibe,” Roncone says. “I’m just so proud of Juanita Blevins, to see her leading . . . the worship was good, the preaching was excellent, and I would describe it as a very healthy small church right now – it’s a complete transformation!”
As for Blevins and the church’s future, she says her heart cry has become, “Go God! Do what only You can do!”