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“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” — Paul, I Cor 3:6

Our garden plot. We have an organic vegetable garden this year, which got me to thinking about growing churches. Knowing and doing are two different things in both gardens and church growth. I thought I knew a lot about gardening until we started the vegetable garden this year. Here’s what I’ve learned about growing churches from our garden experience so far–

  1. Preparing takes work and time. We have been working on our garden plot for weeks. We built four 4’x4′ raised beds, a fence, a garden gate, hauled in mulch, bought compost, peat moss, and vermiculite, mixed it all together, and filled the beds. We’ve spent time and money just getting ready. And, we haven’t even planted anything in the garden yet. Which should give us a clue about church growth, both numerical and spiritual. Preparing the “soil” takes time. Jesus told a parable about different soils and there’s nothing like preparing your own garden soil to drive that truth home.
  2. We can’t grow bananas. Bananas will not grow in Chatham, but tomatoes and beans will. So we’re not trying to grow bananas, even though there are other gardeners in other places — Florida, California, Mexico — who grow bananas successfully. We can’t copy other gardeners and their crops because we have to figure out what grows here. Ditto for churches. Rick Warren wears a Hawaiian shirt at Saddleback; I wear a black robe here in Chatham. Neither is right or wrong, but both work in their own context.
  3. Some plants need special help, others don’t. We planted tomato, cucumbers, and pepper seeds in sprouting trays that we’re starting inside where the temperature is warm and we can keep an eye on them. Other seeds we’ll plant directly in the ground when the weather warms up. Some plants will survive frost; others won’t. Not all plants are alike. If plants are this different, think about people. Willow Creek just discovered that their one-size-fits-all program didn’t work either.
  4. Harvest will not come quickly. Tomatoes take about 70-days from garden-to-table. So, we’re patient, but attentive to the signs of growth and productivity. Plus, a lot happens between planting and harvesting — weeding, fertilizing, pruning, protecting, and watering the plants. Same in church — there’s lots of time between beginning and maturity, and that requires work and patience.
  5. We won’t be able to eat it all at once. We have 72 tomato plants. Some are slicers, some for sauces, and some for canning. We’ll eat some fresh, make some into sauce, and can the rest. In other words, we’re already planning how we will conserve the results of our labor. The last thing most churches need is a hundred new members because most of our congregations aren’t prepared for a big harvest. Figure out what you’ll do with the harvest when it comes in.

Jesus used a lot of agricultural analogies to illustrate the kingdom of God. Plant a garden yourself and you’ll have a new appreciation for their meaning. But in the end, God makes both church and garden grow.