Starting a Neighborhood Bible Study: Why a Gospel Garden? :: Gospel Fellowship Association Missions

Starting a Neighborhood Bible Study: Why a Gospel Garden?

Tim Richmond
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It was funny to see my neighbor’s response to my picking beans from a small plant in my backyard. I’m in Queens, so it is unusual to see a little garden. But this guy had no clue about gardening. He thought I used magic! “Wait, how did you do that, man?!” “I just put the seed in the ground, and this is what happened.” Yes, it’s that simple. I really didn’t garden well, but the power of gardening is in the seed.

I feel this so keenly as I get older and see such a great need for people to come to Christ in our churches across this country. Are we allowing the seed to get on the soil? The power is in the seed of the Gospel. And yet we’re not doing well in getting the seed on the soil. My friend behind me caught the vision and had a garden the next summer. Yes!  I’d like to encourage you to start a Gospel Garden in your neighborhood. I want to encourage you to start it together with others in your church. Consider five reasons why.

Reason 1 — A neighborhood Bible study meets people where they are.

You must meet people where people are, literally. The seed must get to the soil. As our culture drifts further and further from a “churchish nation,” we must be more “fishermanish.” I don’t expect to fish on land; I have to get into the water. So, we must go where they are. Jesus went to the woman at the well (John 4). Philip found Andrew (John 1:44). Paul went to the Synagogue (Acts 14:1; 17:1), the market (Acts 17:17), the river (Acts 16:13), the Areopagus (Acts 17:22), and so on. You get the point. In the Bible, you don’t see evangelists inviting people to church worship services. No, the pattern is that they go to the people and invite them to Christ. After people become Christians, they are ready for a Christian worship service. The sower goes to the soil with the seed. That just makes sense.

While we’ve enjoyed organizing in our local park, we have also seen God use public Bible studies in our local diner. In fact, the Lord has brought at least three souls from our local diner to faith in Christ. Hadi is now a deacon in training at Grace, but when we first met, he was our waiter. The seed of the Gospel worked eternal life in this young Muslim man from Uzbekistan. Another man we met at that diner was an elderly, Jewish Holocaust survivor. Paul is not a deacon in training; he has graduated and is in heaven. I’m so thankful our church engaged him at the local diner.

Where is a good plot of public land in your neighborhood for your Gospel Garden? A local diner or coffee shop is nice, but I like a local park because you can invite everyone, not just those you know. In a park you are expected to mix with the people who live near you. You share this backyard with them.

Go to that plot of ground regularly, ready to be friendly and also to be a friend. I’ve played chess with Raj many times in our park, and he may never come to our Bible study. But he told me when he was coming up on a very difficult surgery, and I was able to pray for him. Raj will be a friend even if he never makes it to our study. Meet people where they are, even if they don’t attend.

Reason 2 - A neighborhood Bible study is a direct way to get the gospel seed onto soil by working together.

Each church should think of helpful ways to engage its city community as a church community. A healthy church should see its people sharing the gospel seed on the soil of its community field. If this is not happening, we need to think more carefully about how we, as pastors, can lead our people to get the seed onto the soil. As you begin a neighborhood Bible study, you are literally planting a small garden together. As a pastor planting one of these little gardens, I am currently praying for two specific individuals from our church to be able to lead to the Lord two specific non-Christians who attend our local Bible study. Others may pick that fruit first, or I would love to bring that fruit to the Lord myself. But I’m stepping back, praying, and watching them sow. It is a special delight to see others in the church bearing fruit.

Reason 3 - A neighborhood Bible study connects you with others on neutral ground.

You have something in common with your community—a neighborhood park, community center, coffee shop, or diner. Neutral ground is so helpful. No doubt people have come to your church picnic who have not come to your church worship service. When a person in your church connects a friend to that Bible study, that friend is not coming to church, and yet, that person is coming to church people who have God’s Spirit in them and are ready to share the truths of God’s Word. 

Reason 4 – A neighborhood Bible study is upfront about the ultimate purpose.

Both “relational outreach” and “program outreach” can result in bait and switch tactics. “Wait? Why didn’t you tell me this is the most important part of your life when we met months ago?” “Oh, I wanted to wait until you were ready.” That’s not very friendly and is a little shallow. When we consult Scripture, friends shared Jesus with others very quickly—because He is that important. Institutional evangelistic efforts often are the same. “I came to your carnival to have fun—such as popcorn, games, and food type of fun. But when I got here you started preaching at me.” That is disingenuous.

There is no bait and switch with inviting people to a neighborhood Bible study. We are upfront about the purpose. New Yorkers like upfront honesty. I think everyone does.

Reason 5 – A neighborhood Bible study provides a means for God to do His work.

The Lord brings those He is drawing. We believe that God’s Spirit is drawing everyone in our neighborhoods to Him (John 12:32). We believe that the Spirit is convicting them of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). So, faith tells me that there is always a portion of people in my community who will be willing to come and hear the Gospel. Good theology prods us forward with this type of outreach.

How can I connect them with God’s Word? God uses means to bring people to Himself. If I believe there are fish in the sea, I have to get that pole out there. I must sow the powerful seed of the Gospel on the soil. The seed—the Word—has power. God waits for us to be the means to scatter it.