“Why would you plant in Yuma?” It’s a question pastor Jason Taylor tends to get quite often. Arizonans see the town of 130,000 as the stopover between Phoenix and San Diego. It’s where they take a break during the commute. Jason says most people only see Yuma from the interstate, but for him it’s much more than a dot on a map.
Jason, originally from Kentucky, felt the call to plant a church. And like many other pastors, he assumed he would start his church where he was.
“My wife and I were in Illinois at the time, where I was a youth pastor,” he said. “So we drove over to Troy, Illinois, the town we thought we would plant in, and we prayed. Both of us knew it wasn’t it.”
Together they researched locations. At that time Yuma was the third-fastest-growing city in the United States. There was something about it that stuck with Jason. Also on the list were Las Vegas, Nevada, and Naples, Florida. Jason couldn’t shake the feeling that God wanted him somewhere where there were few churches. There were many in his hometown. In Yuma there were only 41. The Taylors narrowed their search to eight cities, bought a map from Walmart, plotted the points and kept praying.
During a missions trip to Mexico with his youth group, Jason, his wife and another couple asked God to show them if Yuma was the right place to start a church. Back home, sitting around a table, each revealed a different story that continued to impress upon them that Yuma was their city.
Increasingly multicultural and about 50 percent Hispanic, it appeared that the world is coming to Yuma. The fact that he could start something new made Jason excited about starting his church. He is a “parachute plant” (meaning he planted in a city he had no ties to), which he says isn’t for everyone. But it was right for him. The Vertical Church launched in 2005.
“It wasn’t easy. It took us four years to grow to 100 people,” Jason said. “When we rented an old movie theater, we grewg more quickly, but we averaged out at 200.”
That’s when he found Converge. Jason called Converge Southwest district executive minister Bruce Sumner, who invited him to a Vision Arizona meeting in Phoenix. Jason attended with an open mind, not sure if Converge was for him. But after resonating with the content of the meeting and talking with other pastors, he was ready to go all in.
“At the time, Bruce gave me two options: to affiliate or to become a church plant,” Jason said. “We were still struggling and not self-sufficient, so we went through the Church Planting Assessment Center, and I got hooked up with a coach, Converge pastor Josh Barrett.”
That’s when things picked up speed. The Vertical Church is known in its community for random acts of kindness. They’ve done car washes, dog washes, feeding underserved children on the weekends and they have partnered with local schools. They’ve proved the church is the real deal.
“I believe we’ve raised the level of serving and evangelism in Yuma,” Jason said. “When a new church comes to town, the other churches realize the efforts and it causes them to step outside their walls again.”
Jason didn’t stop there. God gave him four things to accomplish in the next 30 years. He wants to see 10,000 people to come to know Jesus; help the helpless; empower the poor and help plant 100 churches in the United States. Those four goals are his focus, but he also knew he couldn’t do it alone. As a regular attender of the Vision Arizona leadership meetings in Phoenix, he began to see the need of having the same type of training in his own town.
“The geographical location of Yuma is a challenge,” he said. “I love my Phoenix team, but they are a long way away, even though I could call them for help at the drop of a hat. It’s harder. So, along with two other Converge pastors in Yuma, I decided to host a luncheon and see if we could get 10 Yuma pastors together.”
Jason and his team began reaching out to local pastors, most of them not affiliated with Converge, to see if they’d be interested. What Jason and executive pastor Danny Wells thought might draw 10 wound up as 60 pastors gathered to learn from one another and launch Vision Yuma. Jason credits this to his intentional relationships with pastors, sitting down with them, and expressing his desire to work together, rather than trying to take members of their congregations.
“Our church isn’t for the already churched. It’s for the people who don’t know Jesus yet,” Jason said. “The pastors in Yuma have appreciated that, and it was great to come back around and remind them we are on the same team and we want to reach people far from God.”
The Vertical Church has launched another church, The Rock, and Jason wants to keep planting churches. He’s also expanding The Vertical Church. They eventually purchased the movie theater and a hotel next door. Converge Southwest gifted The Vertical Church a $40,000 grant for the building expansion.
“Our goal is to reach 3 percent of the population by 2025, and that’s 3900 people, so we have to expand,” he said. “We bought a hotel next to us and have created a temporary video venue, but eventually we will build a 1000-seat auditorium.”
Jason is excited about the future and to have more free time to continue to raise up and send out church planters.
“I’ve always personally felt called to plant, but I know I physically won’t plant another church. I will continue to plant others through The Vertical Church,” Jason said. “It’s just on my heart, and I’m so thankful for Converge adopting us. They came to us with their arms and hearts wide open.”
Allison Hurtado, Writer
Allison Hurtado is assistant director of Marketing and Communications at the University of Central Florida.