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Eric and Leila Ojala

Elements Church
Summit County, Colorado

"Christians are people who vote for George W. Bush, hate homosexuals, and don't recycle."

When Eric and Leila Ojala arrived in Summit County, Colorado in 2007 on an exploratory trip, these were the perceptions that many residents had in regards to Christianity.

Offering passersby $5 for 5 minutes of their time, they found the people of Summit County to be fiercely spiritual, but anti-Christian. Eric and Leila quickly realized that they had a lot of work ahead of them. "We couldn't redefine church," says Eric. "We had to redefine Christianity."

In order to do that, Eric and Leila, along with copastors Jeff and Cheryl McElhattan, knew they had to grow a tightly-knit core team. "Once we all moved here in 2008, we really started focusing on building hardcore community and trust among our team," explains Leila. "We put an entire year into getting to know the team and that factors in to how we want to see this church happen."

Eric and Leila believe that discipleship needs to happen through community, and that one person can't take on the full responsibility of discipleship for another person. "We all add into others lives," says Leila. "We believe that people will be more interested in Jesus if they see His body as something they actually want to join, instead of run from. We want them to be able to see a group of Christians who really love and sacrifice for each other. We think that's the kind of community people will actually want to be a part of."

With their team established and living in a culture of love and service to one another, they began attending missions school — Summit County Missions School. A mostly transitory area with only 30,000 full-time residents, they knew it would be a unique challenge. "Many of the residents are 18-year-olds who want to take a year before college to work at a ski resort, or migrant workers and small business owners," Leila explains. "We decided that we could fight against it and have something stable or make it so simple that we don't have to worry about it."

The simplistic option won out and the core team of Elements Church began inviting coworkers, neighbors, and others in the community into their lives. "We're trying to be as organic as possible. We've found that people want to ask questions and be heard, so we get together for coffee and talk," Eric says. "Our main concern is inviting people into our lives."

With this in mind, Eric and Leila have opted to start house churches around the county. "We want to start a church-planting movement, but they might never have a building attached to them," Leila says. "We want to multiply, to plant churches that plant churches, and make disciples who make disciples."

Rather than using traditional routes of mailers and advertising, Elements Church has found that simply experiencing life with their new friends opens up opportunities to bring them into their weekly home church meetings. "We let people into our lives and then they want to come see what we do in our services," Eric explains. "We've actually built credibility that way." In fact, the majority of those who have come to Christ as a result of Elements Church have done so outside of their house church services.

Since 2008, the Elements Church team has had the opportunity to see people come to know Christ as well as watch others take great strides in their faith journeys. Building relationships with people who have lifestyles very different from their own, Eric and Leila have often found themselves in uncharted territory. "Sometimes we look at each other and say, ‘This isn't in the manual,'" Eric admits. "There are times that we feel like we have no clue what we're doing, but it's been a great time for us to get closer to Jesus and rely on the Holy Spirit more than we ever have before."

Through these situations, the couple has even found a change happening in themselves. "We've stopped seeing people as souls or projects, and started viewing them as our friends. Now we don't just want to see them receive Christ, but we want to help them be whole in every area of their lives," says Eric. "We've fallen in love with these people."

Used with the permission of the Church Multiplication Network.