We moved to Durango, Colorado, 3 years ago with a heart for the unreligious in the city. We were told that Durango would be one of the hardest places to start a church in the nation. Less than 15% of the population participates in the local church. But we knew that a Vineyard church would be a helpful expression of faith for folks who have not been affiliated with a church. As a parachute plant, every little step along the way has felt like a massive hurdle, yet the fruit of watching God create something from nothing is the most life-giving thing that I have ever been a part of. And it’s working! Our church has grown to have about 150 people joining us for service every Wednesday night.
Here are a few things I have learned along the way:
Find the values of your city
When we moved to Durango, we were given some great advice: “Don’t have a vision. Instead, learn the values of your city and create a vision from the Kingdom expression of that!” That may sound crazy, but we are all about finding the kingdom needs and meeting those specifically. One thing we learned about our community was that people loved to have their weekends free. So, we never created a weekend service. Instead, we meet on Wednesday night. This has allowed our church to keep weekends for our family, and invest in our neighbors. It seems that stumbling on this value of our city has been crucial for our effectiveness.
Keep your mission simple
Our mission as a church has become about helping people experience life with Jesus. We do that through three programs: Wednesday service, life groups, and doing the stuff Jesus did (monthly mission projects). The brilliance of keeping our church programs to a minimum is that our people are able to stay engaged with their neighbors and friends in the city. It frees people up to volunteer in their schools, adventure with friends, and throw neighborhood parties. Frankly, we are available for people in our city because church doesn’t steal our margin.
Invest in people for the long haul
We know that Durango is a post-christian culture, so serving people in this context does not include quick salvations. Instead, building rapport and relationships of trust is a slow and faithful game. People here do not turn to the church in crisis, they turn to people. Early on, a friend gave me a coffee budget. He told me to go to the same coffee shop everyday to work and build relationships with the people there. I have learned since then to make my office a public space. At first, it was hard to be productive, but after building so many relationships with people, praying with people and seeing baristas come to church, my view of a valuable use of my time was flip-flopped! Relationships in new cities are slow. We should understand this if we expect people to trust us with the most important conversations in life. Through our church living this way, we have had 20 or 30 people who have re-engaged in a life with Jesus this year!
Your church is never too young to give
We have a family who has been through a church planting internship with us during the last 2 years. As they are finishing VI, they feel the Lord is calling them to church plant. Having an internship from the get-go has helped us to always identify ourselves as a “sending” church, rather than a “losing” church.
As we do these things, we feel poised to make a difference in the future of our city because of what God has built. It will be up to Him where he takes us, but we trust that a continued movement of Jesus is present in Durango and we are hanging on for the ride.
DJ Jergensen is the lead pastor and founder of Durango Vineyard Church. He and his wife Vanessa and their two girls, Ingrid and Lucy, moved to Durango in the summer of 2013 to start the church. It has been a wild ride full of joy, surprises, and challenges, but DJ and his family have fallen in love with Durango and couldn’t imagine themselves anywhere else. Prior to coming to Durango, DJ was a youth pastor for 9 years at Canyon View Vineyard Church in Grand Junction. And before that, he attended Taylor University, where he surrendered his life to Jesus and met his beautiful wife, Vanessa. They love the outdoors, the seasons, people, and the sunshine. To learn more about the Durango Vineyard go to www.durangovineyard.com.