How Flatirons Community Became The Largest Church In Colorado

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megachurch Flatirons Community Church Easter 2016
A view of the Flatirons Community Church sanctuary during an Easter 2016 service.

In 1997, members of Flatirons Community Church met in a Boulder high school. Their numbers have since swelled, and today the church holds services in a building that was fashioned out of a former Walmart.

Flatirons is the largest church in Colorado, and it’s among the largest in the country, according to Outreach magazine and other organizations that study megachurches. Its success is due in no small part to the rock-concert trappings of its services and the casual style of its leaders, including Scott Nickell, a tattooed teaching pastor who sports T-shirts as he leads sermons in front of thousands of people.

But with growth comes growing pains. In recent years the church has clashed with some Lafayette businesses and residents, and it has come under scrutiny for its views on same-sex marriage and transgender issues.

Nickell spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. Click the audio player above to hear their conversation, and read highlights below.

On the church's use of secular music:

"Speaking and singing in a way that people can resonate with really helps us connect the truth that we're trying to bring to people. We're not ashamed to try to attract people. We have a message that we want to deliver. ... So whatever will help us reach people we will we will utilize."

Megachurch Flatirons Community Church aerial
An aerial view of Flatirons Community Church.

"We aren't trying to be the church for everyone. There are lots of churches out there who are not doing what we're doing and they are effective churches as well. We're trying to reach people who are less likely to go to church.

"In a culture where a lot of people have had experiences where they've had religion, or the Bible, or Jesus kind of thrown at them, abrasively introduced to them, we just want to create an environment where people can say, 'Hey, just come and see. And maybe you and Jesus when we deliver this message will work out your stuff together.' You bump into him and maybe your life will change."

On criticism over the church's purchase of nearby lots:

"We couldn't have done it without the city. Our desire has always been to make a positive impact on our community. And so we've been trying to work with those tenants there and we've been trying to bring in some new tenants to revitalize that side of the street."

On the term "mega-church:"

"It's not my favorite term. It sounds like something from "Transformers" or something like that -- that we're out for world domination."

On the church's approach to behaviors it deems sinful, like homosexuality:

"We're affirming of people as created in the image of God. ... As far as affirming any behaviors that God has defined as being outside of his good and best and perfect will for people, we don't. ...

"We want to live in this tension that exists between grace and truth. We believe Jesus came from the father full of grace and truth. John 1:14 says that. So we believe that we want to welcome people with open arms and say everybody is welcome here, and we also don't want to pander to people.

"If you were to walk around our church, you would see transgender people, you would see gay people holding hands, you would see all of that. And so and we've come to realize that what people are really looking for is truth and grace -- both of those things. And so we welcome people with open arms we try to love people as best we can and we walk through sometimes really difficult messy situations with them."

On why he has "grace" and "truth" tattooed to his wrists:

"I want to keep that in front of me at all times. It's a reminder to me as I teach to lead with grace and follow with truth."

Quentin Young produced this story.