There are certain questions that those of us in leadership here @ the Vineyard get asked a lot.  So I thought that we’d take some time over the next few weeks and answer some of those questions.

I figured we’d start with one we’ve heard since we first had men or women coming to the Ithaca Vineyard: “Why Don’t We Have a Men’s/Women’s Group?”  To get at that question, I need to step back a bit…to what we were thinking when we first planted this church back in 1999.

The vision of the Ithaca Vineyard was that it would be a place for people who loved God, or were interested in Jesus, but had not found a church where they fit.  In a lot of ways, that had been my story. Although I grew up in the church…or in and out of the church, I never really felt like I fit all that well.  There was a “church culture” that I simply couldn’t connect to (and still can’t).

In fact, when I sensed that God was leading me to full-time ministry, the one thing I told my wife and anyone who would listen was that the one thing I never wanted to do was pastor a church.  (I learned later you are not supposed to say that kind of stuff.)

For the next ten years, after I graduated from college, I worked as a campus pastor at SUNY Fredonia, Albany University, and Cornell University.  (And started the groups @ Albany & Cornell)

Now, even though I was part of a denomination at that time (not Vineyard), the longer I was a part of it, I had a harder and harder time taking the students in our campus ministry to the local church.  For those who grew up in this denomination, it was an easy fit…but for people who were really connecting with Jesus for the first time, the church was a major culture shock.

While Liz & I were at Cornell, we eventually got permission to start having Sunday afternoon chapel services on campus so that we could more effectively reach those students who once again, loved Jesus, but simply did not “fit” in the culture of the local church.

Shortly after starting the chapel services, we got involved with the Vineyard up in Syracuse, and 18 months later, through a series of events found ourselves, and many of these same students planting a Vineyard here in Ithaca.

When we first started going up to the Syracuse Vineyard, Liz & I were at a point where we were actually thinking about leaving full-time ministry.  Our inability to really connect with the local church, and be part of that culture was difficult.  Now, please don’t misunderstand…we met a lot of great people who were more than great to us…but they really didn’t get us.

One of the local pastors that we were working with had a great line when I told him we were going to be leaving to go work with the Vineyard.  He said, “this denomination is kind of like the Royal Family, and the campus ministry is more like Princess Diana.”  I’m not sure I like being called a princess, but I agreed with his point…there was a culture clash.  Again, both parties loved God…they just weren’t a good fit.

In February 1999, the Vineyard Church of Ithaca held its first worship service in a blizzard.  We had a coffee break in the middle, and afterwards, we took everyone (36 people) to Pizza Hut.

Although we didn’t have everything figured out at that point (& we still don’t), we knew from the start that there were 3 things we wanted to do, and do well.
1) Sunday Worship Service
2) Kinship Groups
3) Outreach- (specifically servant evangelism)

For each of these three focuses, the goal was to help people connect with Jesus.

So, tying this all in with the vision of our church…again, our desire to be a place where people who are interested in Jesus, but haven’t been able to connect with a local church, can come in find a place where that can happen.

So our Sunday mornings are geared in such a way that mature followers of Jesus can worship learn & grow…it is also a place where someone with no faith background can come in and feel that this is a safe place to learn about faith.

I wrote a post a little over a month ago talking about how we view discipleship here @ the Vineyard. We believe, and we’ve seen over the past 11 years that if a person is regularly attending Sunday morning worship (joining in, taking next steps, etc.), if they are in a small group, and if they are contributing their time, talents & treasure, they are in a great place to grow as a disciple of Jesus.

And beyond Sunday morning, outreach is still a key part of who we are and what we do. Many of the outreach events we do are structured in such a way that even people new in their faith (or even still figuring out their faith) feel like they can join in and be a part…rather than thinking that they don’t know enough yet, but once they’ve been in a class for a few years they’ll be ready.

For example, on Christmas Eve, we had dinner for people in our community who don’t have family close by.  We had many Vineyard people helping, from those who are leaders in the church to those who are still figuring out this whole Jesus thing!  That was exciting!  And just as exciting was the fact that for at least 8 people who came to the dinner, that was the first time they remember being in a church!

Some of you might be saying, “I’m 900 words into this post & you haven’t even mentioned men’s groups or women’s groups.”  I wanted to go into all of this first so that you see how this ties into the vision of our church.

Tomorrow we’ll have part 2 of this post up.