Understanding Your Church: Part 3 – The Garden

Steve Petty
Written by Steve Petty

Churches that average over one hundred but under a hundred and seventy-five, (100-175) are larger than a single unit. We move beyond Cats (0-35) and Collies (35 to 100) into a whole new thing – a Garden.

This middle sized church can be found in about 15% of all the churches nationwide. But keep in mind that we have now covered almost 80% of all churches in these first three categories; Cats – 27%, Collies – 37% and Gardens -15% = 79%+.

The Garden is a more difficult and financially precarious size church. It has enough members and finances to pay for a full time pastor, and then some general staff; secretary, custodian, choir director, but not much more.

The Garden requires constant attention: Crops must be planted in season and a lot more planning goes into the process. Which crops can be planted near others without harm or competition? Which crops have similar watering requirements? Which crops need room to spread out? Which crops must go dormant part year? When to fertilize? When to water? And weeding is a constant priority, not to mention gophers, ground squirrels, and starlings.

The pastor of a cat might decide to feed or not feed the cat and it would survive. The pastor of a Collie need only feed and water the animal and add a little affection and it will thrive. But the pastors of a Garden will find that their work is never done. Everything takes energy: planning, plowing, preparing, planting, fertilizing, watering, weeding, harvesting, etc. Further, with several different crops all needing different schedules a lot of forethought must go into planning how much time you can afford to give each one at any given time?

The typical Garden sized church will have several groups within it that need active attention from the pastor. Committees that provide resources must be managed and encouraged not to drain all the resources. Committees that run the ministries must receive creative ideas, support, and resources. There is a larger call for the pastor to personally lead the Youth Group and Confirmation Class, perhaps even the UMW or UMM. The pastor will be personally involved in all the pastoral care areas; hospital calls, in home visits, calls on new families, evangelism with visitors, etc.

There will be little financial help with specialty staff like a parish caller, youth worker, children’s director, etc. So more often these are run by volunteers, who will look to the pastor for inspiration and coordination, support and nurture.

There may be a cat and/or a collie living in and around the Garden, as well as the new crops the pastor is trying to plant.

It is possible for the pastor who starts with a Collie, to learn to plant more crops, and grow the church into a Garden. The primary question will be how much personal energy does the pastor have to give to the Garden? Keep in mind you cannot grow the Collie into a larger Collie. You keep the Collie and plant a Garden.

One reality of 21st Century life is that few pastors have this much energy. With increased health and benefit demands, the drain on churches that must pay denominational support, the actual percentage of the pastoral support that comes in salary has continued to shrink. With less cash to support households pastor’s spouses must work to make ends meet. This means the pastor’s energy is divided into also doing childcare and household chores. Rarely will pastors have the 60 to 80 hours a week that it takes for them to maintain a Garden, or the 80 to 100 hours a week that it will take to grow a Collie into a Garden or to enlarge the Garden into a House.

The result of these forces in our time is that this size of a church devours most pastors. Pastors moving up the corporate ladder may do well with a Cat. But that doesn’t prepare them for a Collie. If they learn to do well with a Collie, they may assume they are ready for a Garden. But, again, nothing has prepared them for the doubling or tripling of demands upon their time and energy, or the massive amount of planning and coordination required to manage a Garden. So, often we find pastors simply burning out at this phase and pulling back their energy into their families. When this happens the Collie in the church may still love the pastor, and though the Garden goes untended, the church slides happily back into being a contented Collie. The pastor will be happy with the love and affection of the Collie and really have no understanding why the Garden isn’t doing as well.

Numerically the slide from a small Garden with an average Sunday attendance of 125 to a healthy Collie of under 100, is small and happens almost without notice, but the affect on the whole organization is devastating as the financial options are reduced exponentially as the organization slides under 100. The organization may be happy but it is markedly weaker.

The ideal pastor for a Garden is one who can manage a broad variety of tasks well, manage their time efficiently, be constantly encouraging and nurturing to all the leaders within the church, and plan effectively on a long range basis. Typically effective planning for the growing Garden means that plans are made, items are on the calendar, and committees have assignments twelve to eighteen months out. This pastor also understands that full time ministry in a growing Garden is 80 to 100 hours a week of very hard tiring work.

Is your church a Garden? If so, how well does your Garden grow?

Steve Petty