Start a Vine Project Team

  • Colin Marshall
  • 27 October 2016

How many churches have you coached to start a Vine Project Team?

About 15 churches over the past two years as we’ve developed the material that is now in the book.

What are some of the roadblocks you have seen in getting a Vine Project Team started?

For a lot of churches it’s a bit of a new thing to pull a team like this together. We’re used to working with existing leadership structures like church eldership, councils and staff. This is more like a working group that will interact with these structures. It’s a working group—let’s not call it a sub-committee—with a clear focus. 

What is the aim of these teams or working groups?

This is where it gets tricky. The aim is to refocus the whole ministry. In the book we said:

How can we shift the whole culture of our church in the direction of disciple-making? That’s the question that The Vine Project is aiming to answer. (p. 16)

So if it’s about re-thinking the overall direction of our ministry, why create a new team rather than use the board of elders or council?

You could embark on the Vine Project with an existing group of leaders. It depends on your context. Would it be invigorating and challenging to include some who are not ‘official’ leaders? Some emerging leaders could help to shake things up a bit and challenge the status quo in good ways. Existing leaders are often highly invested in the current programs and find it hard to think outside the box. It’s also a good context for developing new leaders. 

What if the elders are a bit nervous about this potentially influential team?

Ideally some of the elders should be on the team and reporting back to the eldership. Everything must be open and above suspicion. Get your existing elders to read The Vine Project, discuss it and then work out the best team in your context. 

Who would you look for to bring onto the team?

Who are the dreamers in your church? Not those who nod off in the sermon—although it depends what they’re dreaming about. Who are the ones who are restless, discontent in a godly, hopeful way? Who are the people who are deeply concerned for the spread of the gospel and agitated that so few are being reached by your church? Who are the ones onside and encouraging in spirit, rather than critical and complaining? Who is willing to challenge the status quo? Who is willing to serve and go the extra mile, taking initiative and not waiting to be asked? Who is active in making disciples (even though they don’t use that language)? Who talks with you about ideas and plans to grow the church? Who is respected around the church and has a godly influence on others? Who wants the Bible to shape the ministry?

What about getting representatives from various ministries in church?

That would be useful, especially for ministries that have real potential for making new disciples. But don’t compromise character for democracy. We need people who can work effectively and happily together in unity around the gospel, and robust enough to graciously lose the argument. Be wary of those with hobby-horses and long term agendas, who find it hard to think things through from first principles.

What are the sorts of teams you’ve seen or envisage working on the Vine Project?

There are lots of different ways to go about it: a pastor with a board of elders; a pastor with a group of emerging leaders; a pastor with key leaders forming a ministry planning strategy group; a youth pastor with youth leaders; a women’s ministry pastor with team leaders; a church planter with a core team.

How would you go about recruiting team members?

Think about who you want on the team and ask them to read The Vine Project and then have a good long personal conversation about their reactions. You should know after that whether they are the right fit and willing to commit.

It is a big commitment, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s better to have a smaller, tighter team than a loose, rambling fellowship. Get the expectations clear and agreed early on, in terms of meetings and working on projects between times.

And it’s not just a talkfest.

No. We want team members to review their own life before God and service of him and how they are maturing in Christ (or not). And to apply the convictions about disciple-making to their family life and church ministries and evangelism.

How long will these teams meet?

Culture change takes persistence over time. Churches will have different starting points, from improving what we’re doing to root and branch reform. It’s probably best to ask for a one-year commitment initially, with the expectation that at least a second year will be needed. They can opt out after one year if they need to, but hopefully they will be enthused to continue. Often these teams will morph into new leadership structures that emerge from the project. You will need to keep the momentum going for 3-5 years to establish the new culture.

Are there situations where it’s just not the right time to embark on this Vine Project?

Yes, certainly. Maybe you have just been through a big review and planning process. You could use The Vine Project as a way of sharpening what you’ve already decided and planned. Or your church fellowship is struggling with relational conflict and healing in the gospel is the priority. You may feel that there are so many hard pastoral needs with families in stress or sickness or people wanting to leave church. But is there ever a time without some of this hard stuff going on?

The Vine Project team are currently producing a series of short podcasts designed to help teams start well. You can access these by signing up for free membership at