Tag Archives: missional

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.”

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A Bridge to Somewhere

bridge-la

I’ve visited dozens of churches this year as part of the research for my book. I’ve enjoyed the experience, but I always enjoy coming back to my local church. I think it’s so important to be involved in a local church.

I wanted to take a minute to write about the church I attend, because I think it’s a fascinating example of what a church can look like in a 21st century landscape of Christianity that is going through something of an identity crisis.

The church I attend is called “The Bridge,” and it just started as a partnership between Bel Air Presbyterian (the church I’ve attended for the past four years) and Union Church of Los Angeles, a struggling Japanese congregation in the Little Toyko section of downtown Los Angeles. Essentially, Bel Air Pres—a thriving congregation up in the Hollywood Hills above the posh mansions of Bel Air—struck a deal with the Union Church leadership that would allow a new church to be born and housed on Sunday nights in the Little Tokyo location, where Union and Bel Air folks could worship together and hopefully nurture a self-sufficient congregation that would eventually attract a local crowd from those who live downtown—whether loft yuppies or box-dwelling homeless in nearby Skid Row.

This is the first thing I really like about The Bridge. It’s a partnership. If Christianity is going to thrive in coming decades, we have to be partnership-minded. We have to be willing to get out of our comfort zones and learn from different Christian traditions. It’s so refreshing to be singing and praying and fellowshipping together with people from such different backgrounds who are nevertheless bound by a common cause. But I also like The Bridge because it’s adaptive, flexible, and experimental. It’s people from two churches trying to figure out how to do church together, in a new way (that is really an ancient way that we’ve just forgotten). Who knows if it will work? We’re open-minded, which is exciting, and I’m looking forward to being involved in it as we go forward.

The Los Angeles Times recently ran an interesting story about the history of Union Church and its new partnership with Bel Air Pres:

For 91 years, Union Church has served as a religious and cultural home to its Japanese American patrons — in good times and bad. In 1942, for example, community members had to gather at its original site a couple of blocks away to embark on their journeys to World War II internment camps.

At its height, in the late 1970s and ’80s, Union was packed each Sunday with about 350 people, including many children and young adults.

But the forces of assimilation and gentrification have taken their toll, with only about 120 total attending separate English and Japanese services on a recent Sunday…

It was this steady decline that drove Union’s interim pastor, the Rev. Masaya Hibino, to seek the Bel Air partnership.

Hibino was attending a meeting of leaders at the Bel Air church in 2007 when he heard its senior pastor, the Rev. Mark Brewer, describe his vision of turning Los Angeles into “the greatest city for Christ” by, among other steps, connecting churches with one another.

Soon after, Hibino approached one of Bel Air’s other pastors, the Rev. Enock De Assis, and broached the idea of an association.

“I could not see a bright future . . . if I didn’t do something,” said Hibino, 78. “I said, ‘We need to change our church to reach out to the people who move into this area. We need to do something to come [up] with [a] new kind of worship.'”

Last October, the two congregations inaugurated joint monthly Sunday night services at Union that are known as “The Bridge.”…

Bel Air is picking up most of the $150,000 cost to upgrade the Union Church sanctuary with new lighting plus audio and video equipment; Union Church has agreed to kick in $15,000.

Hoping to quell fears of a takeover, Brewer and his fellow pastors emphasize that they envision Union Church as its own unique entity and not as a downtown satellite for their church.

“We respect who they are,” Brewer said. “We’re not trying to change them. We’re trying to add. We’re very careful to make sure it’s a partnership.”

I really hope that this is the case. I hope that The Bridge becomes more than just a “plant” or “satellite campus” but its own congregation. I think it could be a great example of how this sort of church planting can be done by other churches—where it’s not about imperialistic conquering of more territory for A church but rather a strategic, partnership-driven effort to bring the Gospel and THE church to as many places as possible.

FOR THOSE IN L.A. OR VICINITY: I invite you to visit The Bridge. I think you’ll find it interesting, welcoming, and worshipful. We meet Sunday nights at 6pm at 401 E 3rd Street, on the campus of Union Church in the heart of L.A.’s Little Tokyo. Before or after the service, you should eat at one of the many great Japanese restaurants around the block. And if you need a new pair of skinny jeans or a fresh v-neck t-shirt, there’s an American Apparel just down the street.

Is “Missional” the new “Emerging”?

The late ’90s had “postmodern.” The first part of the 21st century introduced us to “emerging.” But over the last few years, there has been no bigger buzzword in Christianity than “missional.” It’s a word that has exploded into the popular vernacular of preachers, theologians and seminary professors. It has graced the covers of almost every major Christian publication. It has spawned books, seminars, conferences and endless blog debates. A growing number of congregations now describe themselves as “missional churches.” And proponents of the idea believe you and your church would do well to do the same. But what does it mean?

To read the rest of this article, which I wrote for Biola Magazine’s new issue, click here

And for my exclusive interview with missional expert Ed Stetzer, click here