One of the unique features about our church is that the building that we worship in used to be a nursery. As a result, some people in the community refer to us as “The Garden Church.” What a great nickname for a church! Gardens don’t exist for their own sake. They are places where plants are placed, allowed to take root, encouraged to flourish and grow so that the garden can be a blessing to people outside of the garden. Often during our Sunday worship services, we are blessed by the flowers on the altar that come as a gift from someone’s garden. After worship, we enjoy sweet treats made from wheat grown in someone else’s “garden.” Who among us has not be blessed by the gift of produce, raw or processed, from the garden of a friend? There is an ongoing cycle of seeds, nutrients and immature plants going into a garden, and beauty, nourishment and mature plants going out of a garden to bless the surrounding community. We are indeed a “garden church.” But gardening techniques change over time and so does the way that we function as a church. We change so that we can continue to be effective at engaging with Jesus’ mission of “seeking and saving the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Since its birth, our church has been built on the attractional model. The main idea of the attractional model is to build a church that has features that will attract people to it, i.e. contemporary, upbeat worship music, engaging sermons with visuals, and services like effective children’s and youth ministry. But the attractional model of church is based on the assumption that unchurched people in the surrounding culture feel a need for one or more of the services that the church offers. While that was perhaps true in the 80’s and 90’s and before, it is no longer the case, especially in the Lower Mainland, one of the least-churched areas of Canada. Franklin Pyles, in his blog Rebirthing Simpson’s Vision writes,
Another difficulty is that the washing away of good-will for the church in Canada has made the attractional model much less functional. The rise of militant atheism, the demise of the United Church, the tiresomeness of the religious right in the States, and probably most notably, the residential school scandal, have all contributed to high levels of distrust for churches resulting in ever higher levels of resistance to anything done by any brand of church resulting in fewer and fewer people being attracted to significant encounters with people or God within the four walls of the church. Its just gotten really hard to coax people to come to church for any reason whatsoever. Really hard.
Does that mean that we stop trying to be attractional? No, certainly not. But what it does mean is that we need to think of ourselves as both a gathering and a sending church. Like a greenhouse, we nurture and nourish people in God’s Word and the Sacraments to make them strong and mature in their faith so they can be sent back into their homes, workplaces, schools and communities as missionaries.
Walnut Grove Lutheran Church is a very geographically diverse church. Calculations done a few years ago showed that only 1/3 of our regular attenders actually live in the community of Walnut Grove, another 1/3 live in or around Langley City and the remaining 1/3 live in Surrey or Abbotsford. It makes little sense to focus all of our outreach efforts in the community of Walnut Grove when 2/3 of our people don’t even live here. But if we send the people of WGLC out to be missionaries in their home communities, think of the impact our church could have in the Lower Mainland! People in Brookswood, Surrey and Willoughby and elsewhere will get to know Jesus because someone brought His love to them!
Many of us know how to garden in the church. We build relationships, encourage one another, help one another, pray for one another, and serve one another. All that is needed is for us to do the same things outside of the church. We can think of it as starting a second garden outside the church in our own neighbourhood.
Changing the way that we do things as a church can be challenging. But some of you are already planting, nourishing, encouraging and blessing people in your neighbourhood. For the rest of us, perhaps all we need is be more intentional about doing in our neighbourhoods what we already do in the church. After all, we are a people whose foundational story starts with a garden (Genesis 1-2) and ends with a garden (Revelation 22). And we know that the Gardener who created the world also loves the world and everything in it. Like any good gardener, He was not afraid to get down on His knees and get His hands dirty to restore His creation and make it a place of beauty and blessing. We garden because the Great Gardener first loved, nourished and strengthened us. So we garden like He does wherever He puts us. And He produces the fruit.
In Christ’s love,
 Franklin Pyles, “Allan Hirsch and the Attractional Church Model,” Rebirthing Simpson’s Vision (accessed May 27, 2014; http://rebirthingsimpsonsvision.blogspot.ca/2009/07/allan-hirsch-and-attractional-church.html)