Oh, who can make a flower?
I’m sure I can’t. Can you?
Oh, who can make a flower?
No one but God it’s true.
I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
First Corinthians 3:6
Last Sunday, I paused at our garden and watched our youth as they worked. One was watering. Others were planting marigolds to keep the deer from eating the beans and other vegetables. Others were weeding.
Our tomatoes are fruiting and the rosemary and thyme are growing like mad. We have radishes and peppers. The way our garden grows is a miracle.
It is a miracle because, as the children’s song goes, no one but God can make a flower or a tomato or a radish. At the same time, our garden is intentional. Our youth have spent many hours planting and caring for it. God’s creating and sustaining love and our youth’s intentional and faithful care, have produced this bountiful garden.
Pr. Phil Hirsch, who preached at Holy Cross in March, is the Director for Evangelical Mission for our synod. He often speaks about the best practices of growing congregations. One of these best practices may seem almost too obvious to mention—growing churches specifically state that they wished to grow. This is intentionality. Pr. Hirsch makes two points about intentionality.
First: Don’t shy away from a stated goal of growing. A goal is not the same as wishing for new members. Every church wishes for new members. What distinguishes growing churches is that they set goals for growth and hold themselves accountable for these goals. In other words, growing churches have a plan.
Keep in mind our garden. The youth and the adults who keep our garden have a plan for its cultivation. They considered which vegetables to grow. They planted marigolds to keep away the deer. They have a system for watering and weeding.
Second: The Pastor and leadership of a Church wishing to grow MUST agree that they want the Church to grow. This is not about agreeing that it would be nice to have more people in church. Every pastor and every council says that. What distinguishes growing churches is that the leadership of the congregation is committed to making difficult choices about the allocation of congregational assets in order to achieve growth. This means taking risks, possibly financial risks, in order to invest in future growth. This means rethinking the use of staff, dedicating more staff time to evangelism and outreach. Finally, this means having the courage to end or curtail other activities to free up time and money for nurturing growth.
Consider the Holy Cross garden. Plants, fertilizer, and mulch cost money. It takes time to till, to plant, and to water. Tending the garden requires patience and perseverance. Gardening is intentional.
Yet, as any gardener will tell you, there are no guarantees. Some plants may flourish while others wither. An openness to learn and to experiment is helpful. At the end of the day, we can plant and water yet ultimately, God is responsible for the miracle of growth.
The same is true of congregational growth. It is an intentional miracle. It is a miracle because God makes it happen. It is intentional because we have a part to play. St. Paul noted that the church in Corinth grew because, “I planted, Apollos watered. But God gave the growth.”
During the month of July, during this season of growth, I ask you to pray for God’s mission in the world and even more specifically for the mission to which God calls Holy Cross Lutheran Church. Pray for those who need the love and light of Christ in their lives. Finally, prepare—be intentional, make a plan for growth. Plan to invite people to a Holy Cross event this summer. It might be the Yard Sale. It might be VBS. It might be a social event. Invite someone and put a pin on the “Come and See” board in the Narthex.
Keep in mind the saying, pray as though it all depends on you; work as though it all depends on God. Growth is an intentional miracle.