Hipster Church Tour: Life on the Vine

life on the vine

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.”


16 responses to “Hipster Church Tour: Life on the Vine

  1. What’s he mean about youth groups destroying poeple’s lives?

    Can you expand on that a little?

  2. youth groups didn’t destroy my life!

  3. I’ve been stalking this blog for a while; guess it’s time to comment. I’m linking you from my blog, if you don’t mind, Brett. This is an interesting subject.

    That youth group quote does seem harsh. I’m sure there was a context to it, but without that context it sounds pretty reactionary. Did the pastor clarify his position at all?

    Other than that, this sounds more or less like an Anglican/Episcopalian church with a few interesting tweaks (I especially like their method of worship, getting rid of the seminar-like feel of a stage). I remember reading somewhere that there’s a movement among hipster Christians to make a return to orthodoxy and liturgy as a regular aspect of churchgoing. Has this been the case in your research, or is Life on the Vine more of an exception?

  4. I must be in the business of destroying the lives of children.

    What a shame, here I thought showing young people what love and acceptance and grace looks like was important.

    What a jackass I must be.

  5. I would say that youth groups that don’t draw students into the broader life of the church are just as likely to destroy children’s lives as churches that ignore the presence of young people in their midst (one of the reasons youth groups were created, and perhaps not an issue at Life on the Vine). My goal? To so transform the way my entire church engages students–ministering to them and allowing them to minister–that I gradually work myself out of a job.

  6. Long Grove itself is awesome. This church sounds interesting.

  7. um, not to be nitpicky…but I think you mean the passages are read “aloud,” not “allowed.”


  8. Correction made. Thank you!

  9. Kevin- It has been a trend in the churches I’ve visited that liturgy and Christian tradition are increasingly incorporated into the worship. It’s usually not in any overly prescribed fashion (i.e. it’s not like daily scripts from Catholic liturgy or the Book of Common Prayer), but it is definitely en vogue to throw in some ancient church practices.

    And to all those responding to David Fitch’s statement that “Youth groups destroy children’s lives,” I should note that Fitch was probably only slightly serious when he made that statement. In talking to him, I think the main point he was making was that youth group “culture” and the stereotypes therein have often proven detrimental in the long run for Christian young people who increasingly grow up and flee the church.

  10. I go to Life on the Vine and have worked with the youth there. The truth is, we do have a ministry to the youth and you do really have to know Dave Fitch to know that that comment was probably a off the cuff outrageous statement to ruffle the hearer’s feathers. He is much more moderate in tone beyond soundbites. So we do have somewhat of a ministry to our youth, in fact that is one of the jobs of “Rock Star Geoff” as we jokingly call one of our pastors (mentioned above as the guy who leads worship).
    Fitch’s statement comes out of our unique approach to how to minister to the youth that shies away from the modern attractional entertainment based youth groups that cultivate a disconnect between the youth and the rest of the larger body. Our way attempts to (or is attempting to respond) to the growing research that that kind of program ultimately results in teens and tweens leaving the church in droves.
    We keep it simple and focus on encouraging discipleship and mentoring type relationships as we try to come alongside the parents as they bring up their kids in the formative liturgy of our church. We have some didactic times but use more story based small group stuff and rely heavily on our “children’s catechesis-type class” that the parents are also a big part of. We read and draw a lot from “hip” new books about missional or contemplative or emergent youth group ideas, but mostly we just keep it simple and create space for Christ to work though
    1. The formation of the church litergy,
    2. Individual mentoring relationships with adult members in the congregation, and 3. Family gatherings in which the youth see their parents, singles in the church, and their peers having fun interacting as we edify each other under the Lordship of Christ.

    I think that is what Fitch meant, please forgive him, he was just trying to be hip.

  11. Brett,
    Thanks for good report of our church. After the church gathering today, during the barbeque afterwards, I heard some people talking about your article here. I think what offended them most was being tagged a hipster church. It seemed that it is not hip to be hip, if you know what I mean :) …
    I think overall you gave us an accurate read. I would’ve have hoped there was more emphasis on our attempts as a church to engage our local contexts missionally for the gospel of Christ and His Kingdom. But alas, I think we continue to lead/struggle towards the Mission of God truly being more central to our local lives in the NW Suburbs. As for the youth group comment, I think Judah explains that pretty well.
    If there is one offense in the piece, it would be labeling me the “head pastor.” For this simply isn’t true. It’s true Rae (my wife) and I started the church. But there’s been an intentionally flat leadership structure almost from the beginning. Currently, there’s a trio of pastors and of the three, I would say I am the least responsible for the vibrant life that has taken shape by the Spirit here at “the Vine.” Put this together with the continual recruitment and empowering of leadership exterior to the pastors, and the notion of “head pastor” simply makes no sense in our context (unless it means ‘old guy’ in the group in which case it’s true – ouch).

    Blessings Brett, I think what you’re doing can inform us all … as we seek to flesh out what “church” looks like in these changing days.

  12. Brett &tc-

    I was recently talking with a co-worker of mine about a hipster church in our area — and hipster churches in general. She describes herself as “spiritual” but has no interest in the Church; however, she has spent time both in traditional and hipster churches.

    I was surprised by her impressions of the two separate experiences. While she appreciated the updated “packaging” of hipster churches, she felt that the wisdom and knowledge passed down through the older generations in the more traditional churches was lost in the hipster arena. The truth and wisdom was lost because of a fixation with the packaging instead of what was inside the gift.

    Do you (&tc) find this to be true?


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