Mile-High Multiplication

When Jay Pathak set out to plant the Arvada Vineyard 20 years ago, he never imagined becoming multiple church families and networks across Denver’s many suburbs, plus a robust, though less formal, support network for local church planters. But that’s exactly what has happened.

“We love this city, and that has led us to the structure we have,” Pathak says.

Until about seven years ago, Arvada Vineyard was a small but steadily growing church. Pathak knew he wanted the church to be deeply interconnected with its community, to be plugged into local government, schools, police and other infrastructure. Partnerships formed between the church and the city, and the Arvada Vineyard grew with Pathak as its senior pastor. 

Simultaneously, Pathak, who had struggled himself as a young planter, wanted to help other church planters who were having a hard time getting a foothold in the community.

“It was a grind,” he remembers. “It put a ton of pressure on my marriage. Our team really struggled. We’d been in a large church, so we were used to things just sort of working, and all of a sudden you’re out in the middle of nowhere winging it.”

So, he says, for years he’s happily met with planters who are new to town, who desire coaching or who want to talk about the struggles they’re facing. 

As the Arvada Vineyard continued to grow, people from neighboring cities began attending. But those same people didn’t feel a personal connection to the community of Arvada.

“I started to realize this didn’t make sense,” he says. “This didn’t match what God has asked our church to be.”

Pathak sought a solution to reestablish the church’s identity as a truly local neighbor, of and for its community. He asked himself, What would it look like for us to build what amounts to a network of churches so we could share some resources, yet still operate like local churches?

About seven years ago, he formed the Mile High Vineyard, a family of neighborhood churches in the Denver metro area. The Arvada Vineyard was the first, but two more churches were planted in neighboring cities almost immediately, then two more later. Each new plant joins the Mile High Vineyard family dependent on support, but as they gain traction, they’re given more autonomy and responsibility to contribute to the family. They’re not satellites—each church has its own elder board and pastor—but they do share resources. Each time a new church is planted as part of the family, church members who already live in that town are asked to begin attending the new church where they already live.

Pathak chose to step back as lead pastor of any one of the single churches so that people would be more agreeable to leaving for the new church plant. Instead, he now oversees the entirety of Mile High Vineyard, spending his Sundays floating between the various churches. 

Today, there are five churches in the family, with two more coming soon. There’s something about the common goal of reaching the individual cities surrounding Denver and doing it in the context of family that creates more momentum, Pathak says.

“Those pastors are betting not just on their church, but on the whole,” he says. “There’s something about them saying, Man, I’m a part of a team that’s reaching the city. There’s something meaningful about that.”

But the partnerships and multiplication didn’t stop there. Other Denver-area churches noticed what was happening at Mile High Vineyard and wanted in. But because they’re not Vineyard churches, Pathak created a second entity: the Neighborhood City Collective (NCC). That network comprises about a dozen churches (including Vineyard churches, plus other denominations), and it’s growing. They gather every other week for half a day for training, coaching, prayer and support. Though they come from a variety of backgrounds, each NCC church is connected to its local context and stands in continuity with the historic church.

They all believe strongly in the church playing a vital role in its local community, like supporting local refugees, opening their building as a cold weather shelter, serving as the chaplaincy for the police department and using their building space to offer nearly free childcare so parents can have date nights. 

“We want to be part of the redemptive history of our city,” he says. “One hundred years from now, when people wonder how this place became what it is, I want historians to be forced to tell the story about the church.”

Jessica Hanewinckel
Jessica Hanewinckel

Jessica Hanewinckel is an Outreach magazine contributing writer.