Planting A Garden: Growing The Church Beyond Traditional Models


Ann Michel reviews Linda S. McCoy’s book about launching non-traditional worship in a satellite congregation. In June 2017, after McCoy’s retirement, The Garden Community Church was formally chartered  at the Annual Session of the Indiana Conference.

A decade ago, Linda S. McCoy, one of the pastors of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, set out to create a non-traditional worship experience to reach those turned off or turned out by traditional church. Her new book, Planting a Garden: Growing the Church Beyond Traditional Models (Abingdon Press, 2005) describes the process of forming an off-site satellite congregation.

This ministry, called “The Garden,” attracts an average of six to seven hundred worshippers weekly to four services held in a dinner theater and a banquet facility. Autonomous in many ways, “The Garden” remains connected with its “mother church,” St. Luke’s.

Suggesting the need for a paradigm shift in congregational development, McCoy has much to say about a low threshold, “no prior experience necessary” approach to worship that intentionally incorporates the music, language, and symbols of popular culture. Those interested in the satellite or “church within a church” models of growth will also find much of interest. But Planting a Garden is less about the mechanics of these approaches than it is about what it takes to launch and sustain a new ministry.

PlantingGardenCoverThe book is a thoughtful, candid, first-hand reflection on a journey that began with inspiration but followed a deliberate course of research, collaborative planning, team building, marketing, communication, experimentation, evaluation, and readjustment.

The book does not convey the expectation that others could or should replicate “The Garden.” To succeed, says McCoy, new ministries must be authentic, adaptive, indigenously rooted, and flexible. But it would behoove any leader setting out on a similar journey to reap “The Garden’s” harvest and start at the same point — a clear understanding of core theology and basic values.


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About Author

Ann A. Michel has served on the staff of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since early 2005. She currently serves as a Senior Consultant and is co-editor of Leading Ideas e-newsletter. She also teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is the co-author with Lovett H. Weems Jr. of Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) available at Cokesbury and Amazon. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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