Have you ever noticed how churches tend to develop programming and activities as a way to draw people into their communities?
You might find several different Sunday School studies to attend. There might be a weekly dinner hosted at the church, Wednesday prayer, and small-group studies held at homes throughout the week.
For the kids, you might have a playground installed. Some churches have even taken the step of adding a computer lab to their facilities.
Much of the programming and many of the activities offered stay within the walls of the church. Why not go outside those walls and make use of the rest of the property too?
One of the best new activities a church can start is a gardening program. Many churches have enough property space to install their own garden right now. Urban churches can even begin a gardening program by using the container gardening approach.
Here are the steps you’ll want to follow if this outreach opportunity seems like a good idea for your congregation.
How to Plan for a New Church Garden Starting Today
#1. Develop a strong plan.
Gardens tend to be developed under a short-term vision. It needs to be a long-term project. You’re creating a space that will be used for multiple growing seasons, not just one. With care and nurturing, you could provide plenty of food to your local food bank or through your local distribution network. Think about how you can get started. Then think about how you can keep the garden growing each season.
#2. Give it a good name.
Some churches choose to start community gardens, which indicates the space is open to the public. Others have called is a “prayer garden” or a “grace garden,” which can make some people feel excluded. If you want people from outside of the church participating in the program, then you’ll need to choose a name that supports this and promotes your new ministry at the same time.
#3. Get permissions.
Even though it is your property, you may need a permit or a set of permissions to begin a gardening ministry. Check with your local or county government to see what may be permitted. Some communities do require permits for curbside gardens. You’ll want to have the utility company come out to mark underground lines and cables too before you start to dig.
#4. Pick the right spot.
If you plant vegetables in your garden, then you’ll need to have a space which receives at least 6 hours of sunlight on the average day. It is helpful to have the garden located next to a water source if you’re not installing irrigation to it. You’ll want a space that is away from heavy worship traffic, yet close enough to be inviting.
You might be required to have a certain amount of space between a sidewalk or curb and your garden. Community regulations vary, so make sure any buffering requirements are met with the space you’ve chosen.
If your church does not have a good site on its own property, there may be a congregation member willing to donate some space on their property for the church garden. You may also be able to manage an existing community garden that has been established, but not cared for, if you’re short on space.
#5. Review your insurance.
Most churches have a liability policy that will not cover gardening activities. Church leaders will need to speak with their agent about adjusting the liability coverage to ensure the garden is covered.
If your insurance will not cover gardening whatsoever, the American Community Gardening Association provides liability insurance coverage access to its member gardens.
#6. Nominate a leader.
Church gardens should have a single point of contact for those who might have questions about this ministry. Make sure the contact information of this individual is clearly posted somewhere in the garden.
#7. Know when to start planting.
The best time to start a garden is near the end of the summer, not the beginning of spring. You’ll want to complete the planning stages of your new church garden in June and July for the best results. Tilling the soil at the beginning of Autumn helps to remove sod without needing to cut it away. That will give the soil more nutrients for the planting season when spring comes around the next year.
#8. Bring on the workers.
Volunteers help to make your garden grow. It is important that your workers feel like their efforts are appreciated, not expected, when developing a church garden. Little things, like having garden tools available for them, can be helpful. Think about having sunblock, water, or even mosquito repellent available. You’ll also want to open up your church (if the garden is located there) to allow your volunteers access to a bathroom.
#9. Stick to your budget.
There must be discipline within the budget of a church garden. Begin by defining the costs of what you’ll need for its initial design, including water, fertilizer, and seeds. Fencing is an expense that should be considered as well, even if all you need to do is discourage small pests from entering your garden. You may want to think about building a shed for your garden, so the tools for it do not need to be stored in the church.
By knowing how much to budget each year for this ministry, you’ll have more confidence when it comes time to ask people to get involved.
Is Building a Church Garden Right for You?
Gardening is an expressive activity which communicates that love God continues to have for His creation. This type of ministry engages a community, feeds the hungry, and invites more people within the congregation to get involved with their church.
Gardens are a place where we can love our neighbors as ourselves. It is a place where transformations happen. When we connect with the soil, we are able to connect with a profound joy because we celebrate what our created Earth is able to produce.