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Gazette Premium Content Conifer church uses unconventional ways to raise funds

By Leslie Massey Updated: November 11, 2013 at 12:15 am

During a Bible study in Denver, Michael Cheshire realized that several attendees were commuting from smaller towns. Sparked by a desire to reach out to his community, Cheshire was inspired to form a church in Conifer.

The quandary soon became funding the Journey Community Church.

"When I was speaking with people, I learned many of them didn't go to church because the impression was, 'They only care about money,'" Cheshire said.

With that in mind, he came up with an unconventional way to finance his church. Rather than passing a collection plate, Journey has launched several businesses to generate revenue.

According to Cheshire, a total of nine church-run businesses account for approximately 75 percent of the church's income. These ventures include The Angry Llama, a volunteer-run burger joint intended to build community; First Punch Press, a book publishing company created because books have an impact on the world; First Punch Graphics and Marketing, full-service printing and advertising with bumper stickers, signs, banners and more; and Mountain Roads Driving School, with state-certified instructors (youth pastors) offering 30 hours of classroom time and six hours of behind-the-wheel instruction.

"Everyone has to eat," Cheshire said, so the diner was a great way to generate income while at the same time reach out to the community. "The Angry Llama gives us an opportunity to meet people in our city."

In fact, hundreds of people have come to know about Journey through a meal at the diner and conversations with the volunteers.

"The diner was the start," Cheshire said. "It was never the plan to start so many businesses."

However, Cheshire believes for a church to be effective it has to leave the building and get into the community. In September, Journey celebrated its fifth year. Many of its followers, who number from 800 to 1,000, are active in the businesses the church operates at its Conifer headquarters.

Not only have the businesses helped grow the church, it has enabled the church to give back to the community.

Journey recently broke ground on a 50-acre site and plans call for a community center that will include basketball and racquetball courts, a theater, a bowling alley and a food court.

The town of Conifer doesn't offer any of these amenities, and the center will be open to all 9,000 residents.

"The idea is to have a place where everyone can go," Cheshire said.

Once the community center is complete, Journey will hold church services in that gym, rather than the high school gym where they're held now. "There's no point in the church having its own building that will only be used for half a day, once a week," Cheshire said.

In keeping with convention, the church does welcome donations through a link on its website.

The church's atypical pastor, who also has been a cage fighter and a firefighter, has written about the making of Journey in his best-seller "How to Knock Over a 7-Eleven and Other Ministry Training." Cheshire also recently released "Why We Eat Our Own." Both books are available on Amazon.

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