Starting A Neighborhood Bible Study: What is a Gospel Garden? :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Starting A Neighborhood Bible Study: What is a Gospel Garden?

Tim Richmond
3:18 read

Let me walk you through our church’s Gospel Garden on the first night of sowing seed. It was a warm summer evening, and I bumped into Greg on the sidewalk. I invited him to that first neighborhood Bible study ten minutes before we began. He responded by asking if girls would be there whom he could date. I smiled and said that it’s about something much more important—the Bible. He looked puzzled, but before he walked away, he promised to come the following Thursday and bring a friend.

That first session in the park was exciting. We had prepared a plot and were ready to put gospel seed down together, but would God work? Grace gardeners—an A-team of faithful, gospel-centered believers in our church had been inviting people. I knew they would be sure to come, but I didn’t know if anyone else would come. I asked a man in our church who has the gift of teaching to lead the study; he would be there. Our church had been praying for months, so I expected God to do something. Prayer, service, outreach—so many dynamics went into making this a healthy gardening experience already for our church family. But would God use it?

The First Week

That first week we were able to share the gospel seed with about five new faces from the community. I was overjoyed with that! That is seed on soil, friends, and that was reward enough to do all that work again. But it got better. Over the entire first summer, we were able to establish gospel-centered relationships with about 40 people in that New York City neighborhood, often having over 15–20 people in attendance.

Greg came back the second week with his friend. As the weeks went by, he brought a new friend each week—a friend of his choice. Each friend was a new stuffed animal from his personal collection. He would sit them up straight near him, or he would share his Bible with them as he read the Bible to himself and his friend the entire time. We had so many delightful experiences through the people with whom we connected in this public neighborhood Bible study. All exciting, but not all of them positive—rats, bugs, and screaming folks wandered through the garden on occasion while our group was sowing together.

The Second Week

Nora came the second week. She shared her story with everyone the first time she came. She had a Catholic-Hindu background, and God was important to her. As the weeks went by, she became a mom to the group. She brought food every time, and she invited other people to come. I soon discovered that she was a long-standing member in our neighborhood. After seven weeks during the prayer request time, she began to ask prayer that God would forgive her of her past sins. What a joy to encourage her to trust in Jesus for that guilt to go away for good. Later, she let me know that she felt like He had done that now and she didn’t need to pray that anymore. She is visiting family now in India, and I pray she is grasping Christ in a saving-faith way. I can’t wait until she returns to our neighborhood so that we can continue working together. I love working with others in our church in this a great Gospel Garden!

What do I mean by starting a Gospel Garden together?

Well, first it is starting something together. A church community is especially gifted by God’s Spirit to work together in their community. Some teach; some reach; some preach. We all work together to plot a seed-spreading area. That is the Garden. By garden I mean gospel seed on the soil of the hearts of the lost (Mark 4:14). I love Jesus’ illustrations! My heart as a pastor is to encourage/equip our church people to work together to sow the seed of the Gospel. A community Bible study does this in a special way. As we gather at a park, we read the Bible together with those who come, whether or not they know Christ. That reading event will bring the power of God’s Gospel (Romans 1:16) to germinate and bring fruit (1 Peter 1:21-25).

What does it look like? Ideally, this is a public group that meets every week for an extended time to read through Scripture sequentially with an evangelistic purpose. We keep the Bible primary. We invite everyone. We watch God unite those two elements into gospel fruit. In our specific case, several people from our church meet from 6:30–7:30 p.m. every Thursday night in our local park and work through a section of the Gospel of John together. Each week they cover the next section of the Gospel from verse to verse—and they are currently on session 48!

You can do this too.

I want to encourage churches such as yours to plant a community Gospel Garden together—start a public evangelistic Bible study. We are not a huge church, but we are a loving, gospel-centered church. And because I believe the Bible, I know we are a group of God-gifted people who live in a community of people that God’s Spirit is drawing (John 12:32). I just need to believe God’s Word in this way, step out in faith, encourage our church body, equip our church body, and motivate them to watch the Gospel work. I believe our church has teams of people that would work well to do this. I believe these teams are in your church as well.

In the next two articles, I want to share the why and the how of community gospel gardening together. In the second article, I’ll highlight five reasons why you should begin a Bible study in your neighborhood. Our third article will review six practical steps to guide you through the process.