Summary: A church that wishes to grow must "get over" negatives about evangelism and must tell the truth about the human spiritual condition; must present a full diet of worship and study and preparation; and must be a source of radical community.
We have a garden at our house. Or should I say, we had a garden. It was carefully planted, lovingly tended for a time, it was nurtured through the searing heat of July and watched over during the thundershowers of mid-August. But something happened to that garden, something awful and terrible, something disastrous and devastating. Weeds! Weeds grow there. Weeds that climb, weeds that entwine, weeds that choke and weeds that send out creeping root systems so long that when you pull them out you pull out three carrots, two tomato vines, and a very healthy zucchini all at the same time. Weeds have taken over the garden.
The moral of that story, of course, is that it's not hard to get things to grow if growth is all you want. It's not hard to get things to blossom and flourish and shoot up straight and tall, if you are not particular about what it is that shoots up there for you. Weeds are not hard to grow at all. Takes no effort whatsoever to grow weeds. Take it from me; I’ve been doing it for years.
Ah, but to grow something that you are proud of, to grow veggies for the salad and greens for the table, that is another matter. To grow the succulent squash and the perfect tomato, to produce the ripe rhubarb and the juicy blueberries we aspire to at our house, that takes something else indeed. And do you know what that takes? Do you have any idea what it costs to get good produce from gardens laid out in backyards made of garbage fill?
Well, it takes care, that's what. It takes care, lots of tender loving care. It may also translate into money and sweat and time and energy, but when you boil it down, it takes care. It involves care if you are to grow anything of value. And if my garden is now a jungle and tangle of unwanted weeds, I have no one to blame but myself; the schedule became too full and the discipline too small and I did not take good enough care of my little plot. And so because I did not care for it it did not grow what I wanted.
The point of my little parable is perfectly obvious when you apply it to church life, to Christian work and to the life we live in Christ. Whatever I do not care for, whatever I do not tend, in my spiritual discipline, soon is choked and clogged and full of spiritual weeds. But if I care about who I am under God, if I take care of the gifts God has given me, then I have half a chance at least of seeing something develop there that will honor my Lord.
And if this is true of us as individual Christians, it is also true of us as a gathering of Christians, it is true of us as a church. God's church, however much we may claim it is of divine origin, however much we may like to glow and bask in the work of the Spirit within us -- and that's fine, I certainly am not putting that down -- but however much, you see, we may talk of being here as a church by the grace of God, it is still true that He has given into our hands its care. He expects us to take care of what he has planted and watered and worked and suffered for; to us God gives the care of his church, and if we care for it, it will grow.