California Dreamin’: Couple’s Church Plant Part of Broader Vision
By Ashley Tinstman
The dream began back in 2012. Pastors Casey and Aimee Graves, a young married couple then living in Vancouver, Washington, started to talk about the possibility of one day planting a church. “Where would we go,” they wondered. “Who would we bring with us? What would we name it?” The idea was fun and exciting—but at that time it was just an “out there” kind of dream. Surely, this wasn’t something they would actually do.
Over the next several years, as Casey worked at a Church of God in Vancouver, the desire to plant a church never went away. The couple felt a consistent pull to visit southern California, where years earlier they had met a group of people who were planting churches throughout San Diego County and were inspired by their vision. So, after much prayer and conversation, they decided to take the risk. They booked a trip to San Diego to explore the possibility of planting a Church of God location there.
“We drove 750 miles around San Diego County, asking God for unity and clarity. And quite honestly, I wasn’t feelin’ it,” Aimee shared. “I didn’t feel peace about any area we had visited. And then, someone told us about Temecula, which is just outside of San Diego County. We had never heard of it before, but as we drove into the city, I immediately felt there was just something different about it.”
Though it wasn’t on their agenda, Casey and Aimee spent the next two days exploring Temecula. As they sat on the steps of city hall, praying together, they knew their heart for the area had grown. So, they returned home, fasted and prayed for two weeks, and then began to have conversations with their lead pastor at the church where Casey worked.
“It was really important that we had the support of our lead pastor,” Casey explained. “Before we took our trip, our pastor was aware of what we were thinking about doing—and when we got back, we called him, our executive pastor, and two of our coaches, and asked if it made sense. And they all agreed—it made perfect sense. That’s when it hit me that this was real.”
And so it began. Casey, Aimee, and their four children relocated from Washington to Temecula and spent the next fifteen months putting down roots and organically building relationships with churches, leaders, and locals in the community. Then, in September 2022, The Refinery Church officially launched.
In the months and years prior to the church’s opening, Casey and Aimee had countless conversations about what the name of the church should be—but agreeing on a name wasn’t quite so simple. They struggled to find an option that suited who they were and what their vision was until one day Casey came up with “The Refinery.” The name unexpectedly occurred to him while he was driving, and as soon as he talked to Aimee about it, they both knew that was it.
“For us, it’s a name that speaks of process, rather than the final product. It speaks of growth, rather than being stagnant or stuck,” Casey shared. “And the name is biblical, as well. God is the refiner, and we grow through that process of the refining fire.”
Now, just a few months after launching, The Refinery is experiencing significant growth numerically and spiritually. The church already averages more than 100 attendees per week, and 23 people have given their lives to Christ—an incredible testimony to the way God is working through Casey, Aimee, and their team. But launching a church in Southern California hasn’t come without its challenges. When Casey and Aimee first moved to Temecula, they had a detailed plan for how they would launch the church and build their team—but they quickly realized the culture had shifted since COVID.
“Initially, our plan was to get 180 people on our launch team, and we realized very quickly that was not going to happen in southern California after COVID,” Aimee recalled. “So, it’s turned out differently than we thought it would but, in that, we’ve learned the culture and what the people actually need—not just what Casey and I want to execute.”
Despite the challenges they’ve faced in a post-COVID world, Casey and Aimee have successfully implemented a strategy centered on developing leaders, empowering their team, and creating an approachable, welcoming culture, where they prioritize being personally accessible and getting to know each person who attends.
Now, as Casey and Aimee continue to outwork their vision for The Refinery, they’re starting to dream again about what the future could hold. Specifically, their goal is to develop and send out leaders to plant 10 more churches along Interstate 15, a route that runs from San Diego to Las Vegas.
“Church planting is a critical part of the Church of God thriving in America,” said Casey. “I care about reaching people who are disconnected from Jesus, and I want the Church of God to continue to play a meaningful role in doing that. So, as we continue to grow here, I hope we can play a part in casting that vision nationally.”
Ashley Tinstman serves as connections pastor of White Chapel Church in South Daytona, Florida. In her role, she oversees the church’s social media and communications, community groups, and special events. Originally from Pittsburgh, she is a diehard Steelers fan and enjoys playing golf and tennis in her free time.
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Aimee and Casey Graves.