A quick visit to the stores these days will show that harvest time is nearly here. Everywhere you look, fall colors are in fashion. Go to your local craft store and you'll see bundles of wheat, scarecrows, Halloween and Thanksgiving items. The year keeps cycling, and it seems like it goes faster every year.
The church year goes through its cycles as well. It begins with Advent, then moves on to Christmastide. After that comes Ordinary Time, followed by Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and Pentecost. Pentecost lasts until Advent, when the year starts again.
We get used to annual cycles, based on holidays and special events. Even the most modern of us is not completely divorced from the agricultural cycles that governed life for centuries of human existence.
Church growth is cyclical as well. This is not something that I read in a book by one of the church growth gurus. It's just something I've noticed over the past fifteen years of ministry. The church growth cycle follows an agricultural pattern.
In the wintertime, farmers mend their fences, take stock of everything they have, make necessary repairs on their homes and barns, et cetera. They also prepare the ground for planting. They do these things in the wintertime because the weather doesn't permit them to do much else, and because they're too busy to do much of this stuff the rest of the year. Churches, too, take stock of themselves during the wintertime. Beginning with Christmastide, churches tend to have in-house visioning retreats, manage their membership lists, and so on.
In the spring, farmers plant their seeds. In the spring, churches begin to plant the Gospel in the hearts of those who attend only for Lent and Easter. Internally, they begin to plant seeds with preparation for summer activities like Vacation Bible School, youth trips, and so forth.
The summer is a boom time for farmers. While everybody else is vacationing, many farmers find themselves far too busy to take time off in the summertime. In the same way, larger churches gear up in the summertime, with all the activities they've been planning since spring. At our church, summer is definitely one of the busiest times.
Fall brings the celebration of harvest for the farmer. Crops are gathered in and taken to market. At every church I've ever served, fall has been the time for new members. Of course, people join churches throughout the year, but in my observation, more new members join during the fall than during any other time of year.
Many years ago, a deacon was upset with the diminished church activity during the summertime. "Everybody's on vacation," he said. "I'm worried because church attendance is down." I calmly reminded him that this is what you can expect in the summer. People go on vacation, so attendance will decline. On the other hand, activities perk up. Since activity gears up and attendance goes down, that means fewer hands doing more work. Summer seems both busier and leaner. "We haven't had a new member join in months," the deacon told me.
I simply smiled and told him, "It's not harvest time yet."
And sure enough, in the fall they came in droves--right on schedule.
Have you noticed that your life tends to operate on an agricultural cycle like this, even if you're not a gardener yourself? Winter tends to be the best time for introspection. Spring prepares you to plant seeds and begin new works. In the summertime we have the most daylight, so we're reminded to work hard and play hard. Fall brings harvest and reward for your work.
What harvest does God have for you this fall? How are you seeing the things God has been building inside you come to fruition? And most importantly, will you give thanks?