What is a Vineyard Church, and do you do wine tasting?

About 5 or 6 years ago, Jen and I arrived at church early for worship practice. We recognised all the cars in the carpark aside from one. As we started unloading a man hopped out of this vehicle and asked us: “Hey, just wondering if you do wine tasting here?”

We responded in the negative and were somewhat perplexed as they drove off. In hindsight it would’ve been great opportunity for a conversation… perhaps offering wine tasting would be a good way to build the Kingdom?

Regardless, it was a reminder that most people (here in Australia at least) don’t know about Vineyard churches. If you’ve been coming along to TVC you might be curious. Our Vineyard-ness is very important to us. So I wanted to take a moment to share about what it means to us, and why it matters. This will be a very brief take, but I’ve provided some resources in text if you’d like to learn more (or fact check me!).

A wave of the Holy Spirit

Most people usually associate the origins of the Vineyard with John Wimber, but it was actually founded in the mid ’70’s by a bloke named Ken Gulliksen. It was a network of bible studies targeting those on the fringes of church culture, especially given the recent prevalence of the Jesus People movement in Southern California, where Gulliksen was situated.

In the early ’80’s a pastor named John Wimber was leading a Calvary Chapel church in SoCal, but due to their emphasis on signs and wonders, they agreed to stop using the Calvary Chapel name. It was at this point that Gulliksen’s ‘Vineyard’ and Wimber’s church joined forces and became the first Vineyard church.

John Wimber being John Wimber. Credit: Vineyard USA.

The movement grew quickly. Though usually associated with its worship and travelling conferences, the Vineyard was a response to a range of social and religious factors:

  • A re-emergent emphasis on signs and wonders. This had been a part of American church culture since the Pentecostal revival at Asuza Street in 1906. However, the Vineyard was instrumental in bringing the supernatural to the Evangelical church.
  • The Word vs Spirit debate. Renewed emphasis on the movement of the Holy Spirit was controversial in the Vineyard’s early days. Wimber suggested these to didn’t need to be in tension. The Word reveals the Spirit, the Spirit moves through the Word.
  • Modernisation of worship. Vineyard music was huge in the ’80’s and ’90’s. It was part of a shift towards more modern, personal, and intimate worship.
  • Rediscovery of Kingdom theology. In 1964 George Eldon Ladd published The Presence of the Future. This marked a rediscovery of Jesus’ key message of the Kingdom of God, the backbone of Vineyard’s theology.
  • Desire for authenticity and relevance. The Vineyard was also a reaction against so-called ‘cultural’ or ‘Sunday’ Christianity. Instead, the movement sought a more authentic expression of faith modelled on the life of Jesus.

The rest is… history?

However, at perhaps the height of the movement’s success, John Wimber was diagnosed with cancer and passed away at 63 (November 17, 1997). The leadership succession was not seamless, and this led to somewhat of an identity crisis—who is the Vineyard apart from John Wimber? Nonetheless, although the movement changed dramatically at that moment, it managed to find its feet and continues to grow in the USA to this day.

There are currently 18 Vineyard churches and plants in Australia, with more on the way! Credit: Google

Legacy and future

Globally, we currently find ourselves at an important crossroads. The first generation of Vineyard leaders are passing on the churches they founded, and the second generation is increasingly taking the lead. The question we have to answer as a movement is: ‘to what extent do we try to preserve the institution we have been handed, and to what extent do we continue in Wimber’s tradition of cultural and spiritual reformation?’

In classic Vineyard fashion, I think the answer is ‘both’.

  • Everyone gets to play
  • The now and the not yet
  • The main and the plain
  • Come as you are, don’t stay as you are
  • Remember the poor
  • Faith is spelled ‘r-i-s-k’
  • …and many more

We consider these axioms to be part of our ‘DNA’, and it’s so important to transmit these learnings through the generations. Yet they each emerged in response to a cultural context, and that context is changing.

For instance, ‘everyone gets to play’ was revolutionary in a day when ministry belonged to the ordained, and the congregation were essentially spectators. That approach still exists ‘out there’, but for people who grew up in the Vineyard, I feel the emphasis is shifting to ‘everyone NEEDS to play.’

Why it matters

No one in the Vineyard thinks we’re the ones that finally got it right. But we do believe our way is important. We bring a piece of the kingdom puzzle to our city, nation, and world, which no one else does in quite the same way.

Worship at the Australian Vineyard National Conference, 2022.

It’s Jen’s and my hope that as a church, we will engage with our wider movement. We’re part of a wonderful story that God is still writing. Our movement is also filled with great people and Vineyard events are always a hoot.

So how can you get involved?

Finally, to answer your question, we don’t do wine tasting yet. But we do have communion every week and that’s pretty close?