The Garden Fellowship, located just outside of Palm Springs in Indio, California, is a refreshing stream of life in the dry desert city. The 20-year-old church, having gone through various facelifts over the years, is on its way toward settling in and being a solid presence in the Coachella Valley.
“When it comes to the city of Indio, a lot of the young people are wrapped up in drugs and sex and just trying to fill holes in their hearts with something that never fills. On the west side, the idol is wealth. But out here and further to the east, it’s real poverty and drugs.” Jason Duff, senior pastor, said. “We exist for in-reach where we want to build up our own church. We exist for up-reach where we want to worship God. And we exist for outreach, to go and reach out to the community that doesn’t know Jesus yet.”
Jason has been the senior pastor of The Garden Fellowship for the past seven years. He has more than 20 years of collective church leadership experience in various capacities and at a handful of different locations, including a church in Texas. Jason has served as a youth pastor, as well as an assistant pastor at previous churches. A true Southern California coastal native, Jason never had any intentions of serving in the scorching valley of extreme heat.
God, however, had other plans.
“What was really amazing is God would not let my heart stop caring for these people,” Jason said, reflecting on the early stages of his call to the desert. “God just kept impressing upon my heart just to care for these people.”
The heart of compassion that God has instilled in Jason is evident in many of the programs The Garden Fellowship offers to the communities that surround the church. They take food out, every other Saturday, to the furthest part of the east valley where the poverty is the most extreme. The Garden Fellowship also has an active ministry to the houseless community where they distribute basic supplies, including hygiene products and clothing.
As service to the communities happen, Jason says doors are always opened to share the gospel with the people they serve.
“We want to get into conversations with people. We want to pray with people. We want to share Jesus with them and how they can be saved,” Jason said.
With all the outreach The Garden Fellowship has done since Jason stepped into the lead pastor role and with the church’s emphasis on teaching the scriptures in a way that is easily digestible, yet not compromising of its truths, the church began to experience a steady growth in attendance and membership. Three church services in a rented facility was still not enough to accommodate the growing community. The low ceilings, according to Jason, was also not ideal as it was becoming too claustrophobic for many. In addition, being next to the Indio airport, Jason said the noise pollution was becoming more of an issue, as the booming sounds of airplanes landing and taking off would often drown out the preaching and worship experience.
A change was needed.
Jason and the team found their oasis just two miles away, fitting enough, at an old palm tree nursery. Two years later, The Garden Fellowship officially laid down roots in their new location. The move, despite the slight distance from their rental facility and to no surprise to the vibrant team, did not affect attendance and membership in a negative way as many churches experience when a move happens.
The church continued to grow and it continued to make Kingdom impact.
“I knew going into the building project, people don’t like change. So the minute you move, even if it was two blocks away, some people don’t like it,” Jason said. “It really hasn’t been a problem for us. People realized that it’s actually not far. We're here for each other. We're here to serve Jesus. We're here to serve one another.
“Our mission statement is to help people fall in love with Jesus through the teaching of His word and the worship of His name.”
Jason continued. "So none of that's really changed since we’ve moved. We just now have more room to actually do it because it was getting really claustrophobic in that little building.”
The Garden Fellowship, in celebration of the changes and growth, had a Dedication Service and Grand Opening earlier this year upon completion of the church’s main sanctuary. Jason shared the continued vision and mission of the church, reminding folks that The Garden Fellowship exists to be part of restoring and redeeming God’s “garden” into what could be a taste of the city of heaven. The weekend celebration included worship services led by Christian recording artists Phil Wickham and Jeremy Camp.
“I enjoyed helping the Garden dedicate their beautiful new building to the Lord,” Jeremy. “It’s such a great church that my family and I were blessed to be a part of during our time in the Coachella Valley area.”
Brad Dupray, CDF Capital Senior Vice President of Ministry Development, also had an opportunity to share CDF Capital’s excitement in partnering with a church that is doing great work throughout the California desert cities.
“The Garden Fellowship is a unique place. There is no other place that I know of that’s called The Garden Fellowship,” Brad said at the Dedication Service. “And the fact that the church started in a nursery and then moved on to the ground of a nursery, it all ties back to God communing with man in the Garden of Eden.”
CDF Capital began partnering with The Garden Fellowship in January of 2020 to provide financing in order for the main sanctuary build out to happen. Brad, despite the pandemic and other challenges along the way, was amazed that God provided a way for the project to reach its full maturation just shy of two years. Brad says God’s faithfulness through all of the challenges in the past couple of years has been encouraging and telling of The Garden Fellowship’s future.
Though the entire project has a couple of more phases to go to reach its full completion, Jason marvels at what is to come for The Garden Fellowship. Work is currently being done to finish the church’s Children’s Ministry building, as well as its youth building. They also have plans to build a bookstore and coffee shop for the community.
“If you had said that before building this project, you’re going to have this pandemic and you’re not going to be able to do church, I would’ve said it’s not time to build a building. But what we saw by the end of 2020, is giving here at the church doubled. And then a year after that it doubled again,” Jason said, affirming Brad’s sentiment of God’s faithfulness. “God is going to take care of every aspect of it. And of course He uses partnerships between churches and with organizations like CDF Capital. He uses all of that. God was in it and to know what He's doing is a real blessing to this whole project.”