By Janie Beck Kreider
(Mennonite Church USA)—“Seed bombs” (or “green grenades”) are little balls of seeds and soil, the “weapons” of guerrilla gardeners around the world whose mission is to introduce life into neglected or hard-to-reach plots of earth. Under the right circumstances, seed bombs can produce something beautiful or useful, like a geranium or tomato plant.
West Zion Mennonite Church, Moundridge, Kan., has adopted this idea as a spiritual metaphor, in which the gospel (seed) is mixed with lots of prayer (compost), and watered by the Holy Spirit. West Zion members are learning how to share their faith with neighbors who have never heard the gospel and to extend welcome to those without a church home.
“The change we’re most looking for in our congregation is the conversion of heart where people really catch the flame for sharing their faith,” explains Pastor Brad Roth, who began his ministry at West Zion, a Western District Conference congregation, a little over two years ago. “So many of us have a hard time crossing the street and talking to our neighbors.”
Roth adds that Moundridge is like many small rural communities that experience a demographic shift when young people move away for school or work and don’t return.
“We were at a point where we were trying to imagine the future, and what our congregation would become,” he says. “Growth wasn’t happening from within.”
Creating space for mission
Roth notes that a two-year restructuring process helped pave the way for growth in West Zion’s approach to outreach and evangelism. The congregation moved from a two-pronged leadership structure—with trustees and deacons—to five teams that each focus on a different part of their life together.
The new Mission Team is tasked with helping the congregation find new ways to connect to the local community and the world to bring about the kingdom of God.
“We never would have made the strides we have in our missional outreach without a Mission Team that meets monthly to talk about nothing but mission and has a budget to sponsor projects and ideas,” explains Roth. “In the old model, conversation about outreach to our neighbors would have had to compete with checklists of how many light-bulbs need to be changed. Meetings can only go so long.”
“There was also that mysterious combination of the right people at the right time that’s really the work of God,” he adds.
In early March, the Mission Team led a workshop entitled “The art of the seed bomb: sharing our faith,” with the goals of fostering a clear sense of the meaning of the gospel, encouraging people to seek and recognize opportunities to share their faith, giving simple strategies for sharing faith, and cultivating a culture of evangelism.
Cultivating a culture of evangelism has required some theological reorientation for West Zion, says Roth; the word evangelism itself has required some redeeming and reclaiming. Roth’s sermons have focused on hospitality and welcome. He sees the seed bomb as a subversive metaphor that “turns the military image on its head,” bringing new life instead of death.
“I wonder how many of our churches don’t actually want growth—which is messy, risky and forward-looking—but restoration—which imagines a golden age in the past when the nursery was full,” reflects Roth. “Growth comes from Christ. Restoration looks like embalming.”
“West Zion is the church in Moundridge that has historically welcomed folks from other Mennonite congregations who didn’t ‘fit’—for example, people with military background and divorced/remarried folks,” explains Roth. “We talk about ourselves as the ‘welcoming church.’ However, many of us are overly comfortable in our relationships with friends and family.”
To address this dynamic, the Mission Team has introduced practical ways for individuals to share their faith with those they are close to. For Easter Sunday, they created West Zion postcards to hand out as invitations to worship.
“I continually challenge us to expand our social circles,” Roth explains. “Honestly, this is one of those do-or-die heart changes that’s going to have to take place. Churches our size grow by adoption; we can’t just hang out with our best friends. I intentionally shoulder-tap people in our church and ask them to adopt new attenders.”
As part of their local outreach efforts, for the past four years West Zion has partnered with other local congregations to host the Wednesday evening K–4 children’s ministry of Moundridge Youth Ministries, which has drawn in new families from the community who have never gone to church.
Roth shares that the program has had some growing pains, including minor issues with behavior and respect of church buildings, but that they have worked with Moundridge Youth Ministries to resolve problems when they arise.
On behalf of West Zion, Roth and his wife, Lici, also reach out to all newcomers in Moundridge, delivering treats baked by people in the congregation.
“We don’t understand evangelism to be an ‘us and them’ kind of thing,” he says. “We are all in need of renewed relationship with Christ. The metaphor of the seed bomb is for everyone; we all have ‘empty lots’ in our lives in need of new life.”
The congregation of West Zion Mennonite Church, Moundridge, Kan. (Photo provided)
Brad and Lici Roth and family. Brad serves as pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church, Moundridge, Kan. (Photo provided)