Your Church—Machine or Garden?

by Patrick Johnson  |  October 4, 2018

>>>Be sure and watch this month's video clip below from Patrick Johnson on this blog topic.<<<

Here’s an odd question—is your church more like a “machine” or is it more like a “garden”? Let me explain what I mean.

GenerousChurch helps churches build and thrive within a culture of whole-life generosity. For 15 years, I’ve watched church leaders tackle their oversight responsibilities in one of these two basic ways.  

The Machine Church

In my experience, I’ve observed that many churches are run like machines:

  • Business principles drive them, especially as they get larger.
  • Success metrics are formulated and applied for specific performance goals.
  • Labor differences between staff and laypeople are more finely divided, and various staff-level functions and expectations become more and more specialized.

For the machine-like church, growth is the primary impetus, because if we’re growing, we’re thriving. If we’re not growing, we're dying. [Tweet This]

And, like a machine, if a part breaks or wears out—we lose a staff person or a key leader—then we look for a specialized replacement for that part, install it, and the machine’s back on line. So if the machine is running smoothly and our metrics look good and we’re meeting our goals, we’re doing okay, right? Well, maybe not.

Now, I'm not saying that all these practices are bad—in fact, they can be very useful. But, I think my initial question is still legitimate:

Are we running our churches like machines or like gardens?

Here’s why your answer to this question is so important. If you’re more of a “machine church,” then biblical generosity in that context becomes all about fueling the vision of the church. It's about giving more gas to the machine to make it run faster and further and higher.

The Garden Church

But I want to challenge us to begin thinking about the church as a garden versus a machine. That shift in thinking is key, because a garden environmental model focuses on:

  • relationships and cultivation. It’s about a relationship with the soil. It’s a process of cultivation, that is connecting with people who till the soil and with the plants that you’re planting.
  • root issues and fruit issues. It’s about doing your part, watering and planting and harvesting as God provides the increase.

In the culture of a garden church, we see that people possess various seeds of generosity that they can sow—seeds of hospitality or seeds of mercy or seeds of financial generosity or seeds of time or empathy. [Tweet This]

In other words, as many different types of seeds of generosity are sown into that garden, the growth is multifaceted and the fruit is varied and abundant. At GenerousChurch we always come back to the core principle that biblical generosity is all about growing people. It’s about cultivating a harvest. It’s about the kingdom flourishing on earth as it is in heaven.

A Challenge

So, I’m asking you to consider whether you view your church as a machine or a garden and to think about what biblical generosity looks like within those two different contexts.

To help you do that, I want to challenge you to read a new book by Skye Jethani, the Whole-Life Generosity Devotional: Living in Relationship, Gratitude, and Release. In this 28-day devotional, Skye addresses these whole-life generosity principles, opening the way to recapture the biblical message of generosity within a church culture that is about root and fruit issues, garden versus machine.

It’s available now from, so purchase a copy, read it, and go deeper in your thinking on this crucial topic. Also, please post your comments and experience below, too. 


Watch This Month's Clip 

In this clip, Patrick Johnson shares his latest thoughts on the attributes of a machine-driven church vs. a garden-driven church. What's the difference, and which one is better?

Please watch and share in your network!

Recommended Resource:

Take 4 weeks to explore God's heart and example of generosity

Purchase your copy of the Whole-Life Generosity Devotional. This makes an excellent gift for friends, staff, or donors. Bulk savings packages are available. 

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Great analogy, Patrick! Imagine an America full of garden churches!
James Morgan
October 10, 2018 - 06:45:38 AM
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Amen to that! Thanks Jim for your encouragement and your efforts to see this happen!
October 10, 2018 - 08:12:04 AM
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