As part of the research for my book, I’ve been visiting churches all over the country over the past year—a tour of “America’s hippest churches,” you might say. The goal is to gain a good bit of qualitative data on the subject I’m writing about and to understand firsthand how various church bodies are fitting in to this whole thing. I have stopped at dozens of churches in many states and talked with countless people, and every now and then on my blog I will describe in depth my various observations about these churches.
The first stop on my tour was Jacob’s Well in Kansas City. Read about that here.
The second stop was Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Click here for that one.
Next up is Life on the Vine, a “Christian community” in the suburbs of Chicago.
Church Name: Life on the Vine
Location: Long Grove, IL
Head Pastor: David Fitch
Summary: This unassuming little church in the Chicago suburb of Long Grove may not be as flashy as some of the other hipster churches (it’s not really flashy at all), but it represents the type of congregation that more and more Christian hipsters resonate with. It’s a church that is deeply rooted in early church traditions and believes in the importance of community, liturgy, symbol, and sacrament—but not in a pretentious or overly stylized way. It’s also a church that is very mission-minded and committed to social justice. Part of the Christian Missionary Alliance denomination, Life on the Vine is pastored by David Fitch, who teaches theology classes at Northern Seminary and authored the book The Great Giveaway. I visited on a cold, snowy Sunday morning in January, and had the pleasure of going out to lunch with several of the church leaders (including Fitch) after the service.
Building: The church occupies an old, nondescript Christian Missionary Alliance building in a quiet, leafy suburban setting. It’s a very small building with a sanctuary that can’t hold more than a few hundred people. The chairs are set up in a round, so that worshippers are looking at each other during the service and no one is all that far from the preacher or scripture readers—who read or pray from the four sides of the square space.
Congregation: The congregation at Life on the Vine is slightly more diverse than the average hipster church. There is a fair share of fashionable young people and suburban yuppies, but there are also some older folks and a lot of families and children. While the church does have a children’s catechesis-type class, it doesn’t have a youth group. “Youth groups destroy children’s lives,” Fitch told me. The church is big on involving the congregation in service and equipping the laity for leadership. There are no full-time pastors or staffers, and the alternating schedule of preachers includes a handful of seminary students from the nearby Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. It’s a very user-driven church.
Music: The worship band at Life on the Vine is led by Geoff Holsclaw, and the band is situated somewhat awkwardly (but totally deliberately) in the back corner of the building. This unassuming position is meant to remove any “performance” element and facilitate a more collective worship experience. It fits with the church’s larger focus on a more communal experience where individuals are not emphasized as much as the collective group.
Arts: The church walls and projector screens are full of visual art, described on the website “not as decoration but as windows into God’s goodness or as mirrors confronting our sin. In a culture dominated by deformed images, we believe God uses these holy images to renew our imaginations.” The church seems to be open to secular art and culture as well. In the sermon on the day I attended, the young preacher referenced Coldplay’s “Death and all His Friends” and Sufjan Stevens’ “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”
Technology: Minimal. There was a projector screen with song lyrics and some art images, but that was about it. It might as well have been the early 90s.
Neighborhood: Wealthy suburban. Long Grove is part of the middle and upper class stretch of Chicago’s Northwest suburbs. It’s an odd setting for a progressive, hipster church like this—but the presence of Trinity in nearby Deerfield feeds a lot of Christian hipster traffic.
Preaching: This is where Life on the Vine is perhaps most unique. David Fitch is not a fan of expository preaching or three point “life application” sermons that isolate a passage of scripture from its larger context. Rather, he advocates a preaching that is grounded in the larger narrative of scripture. Before the sermon at Life on the Vine, two passages from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament are read aloud, as context for the main sermon’s text. The preaching at this church is more descriptive than prescriptive; it’s less about handing out “to do” lists than unfurling the reality of who God is and what the world means in light of the gospel of Christ. It isn’t about “how-to” or “self-help” as much as it is about honestly telling the story of scripture and letting its reality speak for itself.
Quote from pulpit: “We cannot reach up to Heaven. Heaven reaches down to us.”
Quote from website: “Sermons inspire, but Scripture is inspired. Preachers motivate, but the Spirit moves. We want to preach the Word with humility, being wary of the pitfalls of topical preaching, proof-texts, and legalistic application. We think the Bible can speak for itself.”