We have been comparing the leadership roles of small group discipleship ministry to gardening. The simple analogy is a very helpful picture of the adaptive, ongoing responsibilities in leading a ministry. We understand the need to care for a garden. The same principles apply to leading organizations of people!
Today we will talk about planting. Planting refers to the intentional initiating of groups or ministries. New starting points provide ongoing groups opportunity to re-commit, re-shape and invite new people. It is also a good time to start new groups, short term groups and connect new people to groups. Today I spent some time reviewing my gardening book. I discovered that planting gets very little attention. The information about preparation and maintenance is extensive. My book is about gardening Michigan – my environment – so it gives some brief information about the timing. It recommends planting tender plants after the last frost which falls between April 25 and May 24.
The back of seed packets illustrate how the planting cycle varies. Sweet peas, for instance, can be planted in the Deep South or far West in January/February or again in September/October whereas in Michigan sweet peas should be planted in May. In addition, the seed packets have simple diagrams for how deep and how far apart to plant.
What can we learn from gardening about small group discipleship leadership? Gardeners study their environment. They plant in season. What is your churches growing cycle? When does it start? How long is the season? How many seasons do you have?
When we lived in Florida key ministry happened in the summer. It was hot; people stayed inside and looked for opportunities to connect with their church family. We discovered the rhythm of life is much different in Michigan. The seasonal life not only varies from place to place but also varies between congregations. Some churches develop a plan for September through May. Other churches have two or three shorter seasons within the calendar year.
Many churches are thinking about the fall. They want to get some vibrant small group communities planted for discipleship and mission. I encourage them to step back and ask some vital questions:
- What would you like your ministry to look like?
- How will you prepare your leaders and congregation?
- When is the best time to plant?
- How will you care for the groups and leaders?
What experience do you have with planting small group discipleship communities? What has gone well? What “gardening” wisdom have you gained?