Harpersville UMC learns to be a Church on the Grow

March 30, 2007

A bright green sign and new plants rising from the ground tell drivers along busy State Highway 280 a lot about Harpersville UMC these days.
The sign says,
Crops for Christ . . .Feeding the Hungry.
This field is a mission project of A Church on the Grow.
Harpersville United Methodist Church.

The plants not only are the mission project of Harpersville congregation, they also picture of this congregations mission to be a church on the grow.

Pastor Lori Carden explains, "When I first drove up to the church [after being appointed pastor in 2005] I prayed and asked God, 'What am I supposed to do? I heard God answer, 'Be the church on the grow. Dont worry these people know more about growing things than you do.'"

She adds that within months this vision was confirmed as she found herself sitting in a Natural Church Development (NCD) training session.  During the training she heard a lot about how the NCD process helps congregations release the growth potential God has already implanted within them.  She also learned that the principles that help guide a congregation in the NCD process are principles found in nature.  It helped her connect that God grows a church in a lot of the same ways God grows a plant.
She also says that as she got to know her new congregation they did know a lot about growing things. So she was able to use the vision God gave her and NCD principles to tap into the congregation's agricultural heritage and help them develop a re-energized mission of growing disciples.  They connected with the idea of why measurable growth is important for a congregation.

As she began to lead the congregation and express the vision of being a church on the grow, some of the members approached her and said, "Well, lets grow something."

So last year the mens Sunday School class help start a mission project, by planting a crop of peas in a field behind the church parsonage. The idea was to grow the peas and donate them to hunger agencies to help feed hungry people. As the peas began to grow other members in the church also got involved in the project.

Rev. Carden remembers when it was time to harvest the peas.  She found herself out in the field in pouring rain and with mud up to her ankles. One of the knowledgeable farmers in the congregation explained that they only had a two to three day window to pick the peas, so this was the time to bring in the harvest even if it was raining.

Rev. Carden says she remembers thinking to herself, "I dont recall having this class in seminary."

Despite the rain, the peas were harvested and the congregation partnered with the Society of St. Andrew so that the food would be donated to feeding ministries.

This year the Crops for Christ project expanded. The congregation planted an acre of crops right next to busy U.S. Highway 280 that was donated by church member Louise Cole.  The crops now not only include peas, but also potatoes, cabbage and corn.

Rev. Carden says part of the excitement of the project is it allows everyone to work together.  She says it has provided opportunities for 4 years olds to work beside 80 year olds. She also says this commitment to work together and grow something has expanded beyond the fields, into the overall life of the congregation.

She explains how the church on the grow vision has directed the church. By using the word Grow as an acronym, they have been able to set the vision for what each member is called to do as a part of the congregation.
G - go out to share hope of God
R - read and study scripture
O - offer Christ in tangible ways
W- worship

Rev. Carden says the rewarding thing is that as the pastor she has been able to take what the laity already knows and help them use it from Christ. "I just keep pointing it back to Christ and equip the congregation."

The vision and agricultural images of NCD and Crops for Christ has also allowed the congregation to examine themselves and ask tough questions such as, Why is a certain ministry not growing? Is there something keeping us from growing in a certain area? How are we working together toward growth?

Through their work during the last year, the congregation has been able to provide food for needy people and spiritual food for new professions of faith and new members as the church has seen measurable growth.

Rev. Carden explains that the vision of being a church on the grow has not only helped direct the church, but has also become great advertising.

"It was Gods vision for us to be a church on the grow. Then we were prepared by God and the concepts offered through NCD. The timing of that process was incredible!" Rev. Carden adds that the congregations hearts were prepared to really work. Then the key was this spring when they moved the crops off Highway 280 for everyone to see. She adds, "Our ad is our mission and our mission is our ad."

She remembers when she first came to Harpursville, she often went into local business and just asked random people if they knew where Harpersville United Methodist Church was to see what she could find out about the congregations image in the community. She said that first summer, most people couldnt tell her anything about the church. Now anytime someone mentions Harpersville UMC in public others comment, "Oh yeah, thats the church on the grow!"

Recently, more than the Harpersville community found out about the congregation when the bright green sign was noticed by a reporter from The Birmingham News and a story about the church appeared on the front page of the March 21 issue.  Soon a local television station also covered the story of Harpersvilles mission.

Rev. Carden said one reporter reflected, "It's not just a sign. Its their mission. You see it growing."

The mission seems to be taking root. Rev. Carden shared that on the day the congregation planted potatoes earlier this year, they explained to some of the children that it would take 120 days for God to grow the potatoes. That meant they would have to wait 120 days before anyone came back to the field to harvest them.  Last week when she invited some of the congregation to go back in to the field to weed and have a photo shoot, one young member protested that it had only been 15 days so God was still growing the potatoes and it was not time to go back into the field.

She adds, "He was counting. That's cool."

Rev. Carden says a key to the church's vision and the NCD process is to always remember "We plant. God grows." That message is what she tries to share with her congregation whether it's in the field or in worship.

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