March 30, 2009

Church Experiment #13: Vineyard Westside

This will probably be my most biased review to date. Tim Urmston (the lead pastor of Vineyard Westside at the time of my visit) and I worked together years ago at Vineyard Community Church in Springdale, Ohio. Tim gave me my first shot teaching in a Christian context at Alpha way back in 2002. He started Vineyard Westside right around the same time Aaron Wright and I launched D’VINE. Plus, he’s just a swell fella.

I was actually pretty apprehensive about attending Vineyard Westside ( For one, the west side of Cincinnati scares me. It’s like a whole different world over there. Not so much the people or neighborhoods (both are perfectly fine). Even though it is technically Cincinnati, it feels like a hundred miles away.

The other reason is because I know people at Vineyard Westside, so visiting in order to “critique” or “judge” seemed weird. I felt much less anonymous than I have up to this point in the experiment. I considered wearing a fake mustache and glasses, but that would have required way too much work.

I tried to hide in the corner, but the pastor and associate pastor both spotted me before the service began. Luckily, they only roughed me up for a few minutes before letting me return to my seat.

I am going to sum up my experience at Vineyard Westside with these three words: Cup Holder Pews.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.


Kelly said...

Hi Steve,
You were there and I didn't get to meet you! As you said, there are many things going on at one time around there. Glad you had a good experience and made it out of the Westside alive-we're not that bad are we?! Oh, and incase someone from Whitewater reads this-we don't own the building, we rent it. But we love it none the less.

Sarah said...

I agree 110% with this blog.. aside from the Bengals winning a Superbowl trophy. C'moooon!!!! They totally CAN! :)

Ellen Karns said...

Makes me miss VWS and Cincy. There is somethin' special there indeed.

Chris said...

Is the Church of the Vineyard we have in my city related to these Vineyard churches you're talking about? Just curious. And what makes a Vineyard church a Vineyard church?

DanThoms said...

"Like a nun smoking a cigarette," that's funny, I like it. I wish I could have said howdy but I was downstairs with the 3,4 & 5 year olds (14 of them to be exact). Your right about church being about family. I love my family. I'm glad you enjoyed yourself.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve,
Just wanted to drop in after the latest entry and say thanks for posting these- I try to read every week- love your writing style, entries are informative and entertaining. Keep it up! Looking forward to the next 75%.
~Nicole (Braun-Rahe)

Steve Fuller said...


Just a funny side note: I went to lunch afterwards with a group of friends, and a couple people asked if I ran into you. One guy speculated you had a belt of hats that you constantly rotated.

Is it so?


I assume most Vinyard churches are born from the same movement (started by John Wimber in the late 70s). But I am also sure they vary from region to region and church to church. I know Wimber was very Charismatic, whereas the Vineyards in Cincinnati probably wouldn't be classified as such.

Offensive Coordinator said...

It was great seeing you yesterday Steve. Kind of made me miss those conversations in your office (you know when I interrupted all of those curriculum writing sessions to brainstorm random things?) Anyway, I know this one is biased (a little) but if thats what it takes for us to be able hang out, then bias away my friend.

I am now in search of a picture of a nun smoking a cigarette to put on my Facebook. It has taken on a bit of a Mantra feel for those of us who call the Westside home. (would make a great book cover pic too). Only you could have put that image together and made it work.

The church is a beautiful mess, your blog confirms that for me every week. But somehow, God continues to do amazing things in spite of us. Thanks for the candidness, openness, fairness, and humor. My thought is that this will ultimately bring awareness and unity to the church.

All that said, I'm glad you were there and I'm glad we spotted you, and I'm glad we screwed down the cup-holders as I know you wanted to take one home with you as a souvenir.

Let me know when you want to brainstorm again. Looks like we would have a lot more material to work with than back in the day...

Anonymous said...

anonymous sis in the Lord (kind of an oxymoron ~ how can you be family anonymously, but it's the cyber church world of the day!)

stumbled on your site last wk through one of the VCC guys' blogs...was riveted until I had read every one of your first 12 entries in one sitting (hence the long comment ~ i'm just jumpin in and catchin up here). :)

i have recently related to missing that sense of home to go to on Sundays after my particular "branch of the family" coming to an abrupt end last year. Visited Rosscroads :) and had a similar reaction as you, and also praying for them to fulfill their particular function in the world in the Lord, as each of us do the same whatever & wherever walking by His Spirit leading and empowering.

also similar LOVE of worship with my black bros and sisters ~ we NEED each other!! (thank God for hooking up VCC & Charlie , etc!) I love that diversity and depth has been increasing at VCC! I'll say it again: WE NEED EACH OTHER.

have been looking to the Lord to redefine how we flow among one another in relationship among "the church" ~ (Great end to Reset message yesterday by Joe Boyd about being the church vs "going to church"... since you caught the first couple wks elsewhere, might be worth catching that one online.) I long to see us (the called out to Jesus ones) to be connected in and meeting together as He flows, not hoarded away in-grown in one locale and closed off from other branches of the family.

i appreciate being able to "visit" some local churches vicariously with you, relating to some parallel experiences, and just praying and praising the Lord that we know He is working to pull His /(our) big family together as one, all the while working out the spots and wrinkles (some of which you've hit upon ~ divisions, sensationalism...etc?) of the sometimes whorish (ouch!) yet our hope is the more time we spend with Him, the more and more "suited" we become to Him, and in that love that overflows between us and Him, others will be born into His fam!

Nick A said...

Is St. John's the kinda funny looking (to me) white building? If so, I was walking into a "Sunday" (not sure what they call them) once but get scared and went to VCC instead about 5 or 6 years ago.

I think the look on a few people's faces (I don't remember to a t, but remember it being kinda non expressional or glazed over)creeped me out.

Hope this helps, I look forward to your reaction of it.

DanThoms said...

It's true, I do have a belt of hats that constantly rotates. It was specially developed for me through a coordinated effort between the national magicians association and NASA.

Chris said...

I found your blog via This is Reverb via The Pioneer Woman.....

Anyway, I sat and read every single one of your posts. What a cool experience you are undertaking!

Isn't observing others so interesting?? said...

I am pretty new to all of this, I was brought up Catholic babtism thru confirmation - however I didn't retain much. I am trying hard to become Christian - I don't know if I am wording that right. I am wondering what a Vineyard service is? and why are their cup holders? coffee? beer?

DanThoms said...

The cup holders are for coffee, water or on movie night, blue slushies.

Tokyo Kiwi said...


I found your blog that same way Chris did, and while I think it's wonderfully fascinating (you have a brilliant way of expressing yourself - I can 'see' what happened each week very clearly), and a really interesting experience...

I would like to add a note of caution.

I think it's really, really good that you 'went back' to Vineyard Westside, a church that you were somewhat familiar with.

A year is a long time to do something so very different. I should know, I'm over halfway through my year of exile (read: exchange). As much as I can see how this experience is going to help you to grow as a person and to find your way back to redefining your faith, I'm worried that you are going to somehow loose something of yourself by being somewhere so unfamiliar for a year.

So, I would encourage you to continue to occasionally visit churches that are more familiar to you - a sort of touchstone, if you will. As interesting and eye-opening as a year of sampling different churches is bound to be, I really hope that at the end of the year, you aren't...broken, for lack of a better word. Disenchanted. Unable to find a place for yourself in the Church.

I won't say that I'm praying for you (I always find people so bloody condescending when they say that), but I will be thinking of you, and hoping that you are hanging on okay.

And waiting each week for an update, of course!

Tracy said...

Thanks for visiting our church on Sunday! Oh my, your blog made me laugh out loud and brought tears to my eyes. VWS is definitely a different church. I was raised in the Catholic faith, married and member in the Methodist faith and have now found my home with my family at VWS. Tim and Ryan have created a community where everyone is loved and accepted but where the truth of God's word is not compromised.

Don't be a stranger....come back and see us again.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Very interesting experiment. I'm pretty sure I've been to that Vineyard.


Ruby Red Slippers said...

I told you in an e-mail I would post a comment eventually-and I am now caught up with this series, and I am hooked. This is a great experiment.
It is so true about what you said about church-it is like a family...
and if the Bengals can win a Superbowl, so can my dear Lions!
Ruby Red Slippers

Mittie said...

Hi there. I came upon your blog via This is Reverb via Pioneer Woman, like some others here. Your journey is very familiar to me, or at least the origins of it. I was raised Church of Christ, baptised Mormon, and now I don't know where I belong. I'll be following you with interest, for I am a student of religions. Why not try a Nazarene congregation, and a Seventh Day Adventist congregation?

EROPPER said...

Did you ever consider adding a simple/organic church to your itinerary?
love the blog btw.......will follow it....

Christel said...

Hi! I find your experiment very interresting, even though I am an atheist and a to-the-bone-sceptic.
Ever thought about publishing the final result as a book? It makes good reading, even for those of us who regard religion as mumbo jumbo (not trying to be offensive, I just couldn't find the right words for it as I am Norwegian). Anyway, I'm looking forward to your next entry =)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I would like to wish you luck on your quest. I went on a similar one a few years ago, albeit a more private one. I met a very interesting man during this time. I new nothing of the religion of Islam at the time. Muslims believe in the same things as Christians, basically, so I suggest you don't leave the Mosques out of your search. They have their large prayer on Friday instead of Sunday, but you can usually find someone around everyday at prayer time (5 times a day). Ask for the Imam and he will be happy to answer any questions you may have. You will find it thought prevoking if nothing else. I liked it. Good luck.

Dion said...


"Muslims believe in the same things as Christians, basically"

I am not sure which belief you are less familiar with, but these two do not believe the same things. Even their most basic belief in the person of God is different.

His Synamon Girl said...

I TOO came upon your blog via This is Reverb via Pioneer Woman, like a bunch of others here.

We are going through a similar situation, just not as deep as yours.

I was Baptized when I was small, Saved when I visited a church with a school friend and who knows what else until I grew up and moved out. Many years later, I met my husband, who was brought up Catholic (but didnt care for it). We occasionally attended service at his parents church for all the Holy Holidays. It felt more like a ritual than anything else. To me at least.
Fast forward until 2 years ago. We stumbled upon a community church, through a friend of my son. We liked it because it wasnt like the church we went to as we grew up, it wasnt church with velvet curtains and the stiff seats or the long robes and such and the Pastor wasnt frail and boring and talked all weird. This Pastor was very easy to listen to, spoke a good message, not too long, not too short, and felt like you were the only one in the room and the message was for you. Yes, they passed the plate at the beginning, before the sermon (or whatever you call it.) and there was a Christian "rock" band (then when the lead singer moved on, it turned more contemporary ~unfortunate because the band was the first thing to draw us in!) that played as you walked in with your coffee and danish (that you grabbed on the way through the door).

We were "Born Again", as a family - me, hubby, son and daughter- with this church. We felt at home with a new family. Everyone was extremely welcoming, the messages always spoke to us...

Then, these past few months, we started a soup kitchen with one of the outreach coordinators. After 4 months of serving home made food (which hubby, his mom and I cooked) to 100-150 people each Wednesday and seeing the need grow for a stronger outreach, things went sour. Its like we stepped too far. We offered to do more and to take it upon ourselves to do the extra work it would require to see this outreach grow and help others in the community. It felt like we took a wrong turn driving to church that day and this wasnt the church we had been going to for the past few years and had grown with and loved.
It felt like we weren't welcome by some and the Pastor seemed to busy to help make things right.

We have been "homeless" for the past few weeks. We have gone church hopping in hopes of finding some where else to belong. We miss the church we had called home. It was only reaching 3 years, but having come from no church (myself) or a church that didnt fit (hubby), it was all we had known. Now we feel lost. Sure, they are calling us back and it was all a misunderstanding and such but HOW can you walk back in and FEEL like nothing ever happened? (which is what I am sure they will expect.)

We miss the friends we made there but we were hurt by some of the main "players".

Like I said, my hubby and I found your blog through Reverb's, through Pioneer Woman's, but reading your blog felt like you were writing to us. You already "been there, done that". It was nice to know we weren't alone questioning why do we need a church. And reading your weekly attempts to "try on" different churches has been an enlightening experience, especially since we have been contemplating the exact same thing in our town! (there are at least 50 churches in our immediate area!)

Thank you for writing your blog, Thank you for your hope and Thank you for your words, which unbeknownst to you, has comforted us.

Be Blessed in your journeys!


Anonymous said...

HI Steve,
I found your blog thru Ryan at Reverb. I have been back reading over the last couple of nights and have found your journey fascinating. I attend a Church that is very similar to Vineyard up in Minnesota (Eaglebrook) and have become very active in the last year. I really appreciate your view on how the Church becomes your family - they can drive you nuts, some are wacky, some are snobby, but yet we, together, can do incredible things with Christ. I really am looking forward to finishing reading your experiences through out the rest of the year. Remember to have fun and be open to all that He has planned for you - it's going to be a great year!
Jen - Mom of 4

~*~KIMBERLY~*~ said...

This was a quite a revelation in your walk with Christ:
"I need a community of friends to share the journey."

That's powerful!

barssmonkey said...

hey steve,
saw your blog off of a google alert I get about vineyard and urban.
Really enjoyed the posts I read. I remember reading the same quote about the church being a whore, but she's my mother from Shane Claiborne. I think its from St. Augustine.
bless u man