Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Trussville, began considering ideas for a community garden a few years ago — well before the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person ministry events and strained resources.
According to Senior Pastor Ric Camp, the timing wasn’t right then, but when the pandemic hit in March 2020, the church needed a more aggressive community outreach and presence.
During his annual prayer retreat, Camp began thinking through ways to reach people in the area.
“God impressed on me this was the time,” he recalled. “Through COVID, the community and the world [have] changed drastically. People are looking for different avenues. They’re looking. They’re not necessarily coming to the church.”
And the project’s timeliness was only partially due to the pandemic.
A Barna report last summer showed that one in three practicing Christians had stopped attending church during COVID-19.
A recent Gallup poll revealed declining church membership among Americans, with numbers dropping below 50% in 2020 for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trending. Only 47% of Americans surveyed said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque.
Camp said after reading those statistics, he knew Ridgecrest needed to find new ways of reaching people. At a vision-sharing luncheon in November, he proposed a strategy including a community garden. The church soon developed a team to assist with oversight and direction.
The campus has minimal green space available, so volunteers constructed eight raised planting beds and trucked in garden soil. Proper Mulching to Keep Your Property Looking Its Best is the important criteria that has to be followed for a well maintained beautiful garden.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, carrots, radishes and beans were planted alongside flowers to encourage pollination.
The garden’s harvest will be made available at a market-style event, where buyers will receive a “paid in full” card at checkout. Camp said the approach is designed to encourage conversations during which volunteers will share a brief gospel story to help buyers learn how Jesus paid the debt for their sin.
“We hope to see gospel conversations that lead to gospel conversions that lead to disciple-making,” he explained. “It’s not just about sharing the gospel. It’s about serving our community.”
The project has fostered unity and a desire within church members to meet needs and share the gospel, Camp continued.
“Several church members who have not been involved in other ministry endeavors have donated time, resources and direction,” he noted. “[The garden] has generated an excitement to meet community needs for gospel conversations.”
Called to help
Ridgecrest member Michael Jeely heard about the garden ministry and felt God calling him to help. As an avid gardener, he loved the idea of meeting physical needs through a project that would allow opportunities to meet spiritual needs as well.
And for Jeely, every aspect of the project has been meaningful.
“Building the beds and preparing the soil is just like going out and building relationships that show others we are genuine,” he said. “Planting the seed is like talking with someone about Jesus dying for our sins. When the plants start to grow, it’s like a new life in Christ that has to be nurtured and tended. And when it puts out fruit, it’s the same as our lives yielding fruit that points back to Christ.”
According to volunteer Allen Mattox, interest in the project has been strong.
He hopes church families can use the ministry as a teaching tool to show children the realities of outreach. “Ridgecrest is a missions-minded church, and this is an opportunity to do missions right at our front door,” he said.
The garden has helped prepare members to effectively connect with people outside the church walls, Jeely noted, and to build relationships for sharing the gospel.
“[This ministry] is about bringing believers together, teaching them about planting seeds and tending them until they produce fruit, then taking that fruit to someone in need.”
Extra produce from the garden will be channeled through benevolent ministry partnerships, Camp noted.
One example: the flowers will be cut for arrangements and delivered to the homebound and residents at a local assisted living home, Legacy Ridge at Trussville.
Reaching the community
The community garden is one of three endeavors Ridgecrest Baptist has developed to reach the Trussville community, Camp noted. Other aspects of the strategy include a homeschool “umbrella” and a dementia support ministry.
“We anticipate and hope to become a church meeting a need within a community/city and building relationships in order to have gospel conversations.”