The Vineyard movement began in South Africa in 1982 with the first church plant. Following Jesus originally started in 1988 as Bryanston Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a plant by Costa Mitchell from the first Vineyard. In 1996 Costa invited Alexander Venter to lead the Bryanston Vineyard.
The years that followed saw the church relocating three times and in the process changing its name to Valley Vineyard. Part of this journey was the fulfillment of a five-year plan – the “2005 Vision” as it was called – to grow the church to a place of health and strength and buy a property to build a community center. By God’s grace and the generous giving of the congregation a wonderful eleven-acre property was acquired and the buildings were renovated. In 2006 the debt-free Vineyard Community Center was opened as the new ‘home’ for Valley Vineyard.
At that time Alexander handed leadership of the church to a younger pastor and relocated his ministry-base to The Field – the farm community south of Johannesburg, where his family resided. Since then, for various reasons, there has been a succession of destabilizing shifts in the senior leadership of Valley Vineyard, leading to an extended period of insecurity and struggle in the congregation. In mid 2012 the leadership asked Alexander to come and help out. His re-engagement led to the elders’ conviction under God that he should be the team leader. The invitation was issued and accepted, and the public announcement was made on 5 September 2012.
One of the first things Alexander identified was the need for a “total make-over”. The protracted period of instability and struggle had produced a poor self-image and negative psyche in the church. With the unanimous support of the leadership, Alexander led a process of death, burial and resurrection. All those present at the day-retreat on 3 November told their stories of the journey in Valley Vineyard, celebrating the joys and highlights, and mourning the hurts and losses. They broke bread and shared Christ’s cup and laid Valley Vineyard to rest, hugging and forgiving and affirming each other. An emotional but victorious church funeral! Then Alexander stood up and shared the way forward, that we take the best of the past and journey into the future with a new name embodying a new identity: Following Jesus.
Following Jesus was officially launched and Alexander was formally inducted as the Senior Pastor at a public worship service at the Vineyard Community Center on 20 January 2013.