A City’s Best Friend: Vineyard Columbus

On a sunny afternoon 10 years ago, Craig Heselton, executive pastor of Vineyard Columbus in Westerville, Ohio, stopped for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant with one of his colleagues. While ordering they struck up a conversation with the waiter, Daniel Petrarca, an immigrant from Venezuela. They learned that Petrarca was a chemical engineer and his wife, Irene, was a pediatrician, but neither of them had been able to find work in their fields since moving to the U.S.

Though the pastors couldn’t promise jobs, they extended hope and encouragement by way of an invitation. Heselton invited Petrarca and his family to visit Vineyard Columbus. According to Heselton, Petrarca’s family started attending the church regularly, which was a huge blessing to them, especially when Irene was soon diagnosed with breast cancer. Through healing prayers and treatment, Irene regained her health. And that’s not all: She’s now employed full time as the pastor of Vineyard’s Spanish-speaking campus, La Viña, which launched in 2013.

“You never know how God will work because it all started out from an engaging conversation over a burrito,” Heselton says.

Vineyard Columbus, a large multiracial, multiethnic church whose weekly services represent 125 nations, strategically serves the city’s “least, last and lost” with its community center that is attached to the front of the church building. With well over 100 volunteer-led programs, the church’s mercy and justice ministry offers a food pantry; free dental, health and legal clinics; ESL and GED classes; job and skills training; an early-childhood center; and after-school programs for elementary through high school students. The church also ministers to roughly 450 women in unexpected pregnancies each year through the Value Life program, which aids the mother with pregnancy, birth and all of the difficult transitions that follow.

The community center receives more than 10,500 visitors each month, so it’s no surprise that Vineyard Columbus has the reputation of being the “best friend” of the city.
According to Heselton, Vineyard is located in an area that is currently experiencing intense demographic changes, including increased levels of poverty, greater ethnic diversity and a surge in single motherhood.

“The people we minister to provide a testing and demonstration ground for living out our theology,” says Heselton, who attributes the church’s rapid growth to the fact that when people visit, they experience God’s presence. “We teach people how to learn God’s voice. So they see him in healing prayer. They see him save people from addiction. They see him gain victory over pornography. They see him changing lives.”

The church also offers professional counseling and a marriage restoration ministry. In addition, 55 percent of church attendees participate in approximately 450 small groups, which meet weekly for Bible study, prayer and fellowship.

“Getting real, opening up and growing in Christ—that all becomes contagious,” Heselton says. “When all of these things come together, that’s when substantial discipleship happens. That’s when we see lasting impact.”

Read more Outreach 100 fastest-growing church profiles »

Westerville, Ohio
Senior Pastor: Rich Nathan
Website: VineyardColumbus.org
Twitter: @RichNathan, @VineyardCbus
Facebook: /VineyardColumbus
Founded: 1974
Affiliation: Vineyard
Locations: 4
Attendance: 7,905
Growth in 2015: +1,131 (17%)
Fastest-Growing: 32
Largest: 57