Reaching and Revitalizing Rural America: Overcoming Misconceptions, and Answering the Call (Part 3) by Ed Stetzer

I recently wrote an article for Influence magazine with Tena Stone. Tena is director of research and training at OneHope, serves as a primary researcher for the Rural Matters Task Force in North America, and is part of a church plant in rural Georgia. It’s worth sharing here. God is on the move in rural communities, and it’s past time we acknowledge it and celebrate the work so many in rural ministry are doing. In Part 1, we gave an overview of the realities and talk about cultural homogeneity. In Part 2, we talked about two more misconceptions about rural America. Today, we conclude with models of hope.

Multiple voices have articulated a burden for this area, and they are no longer distant and inaudible. Many of these leaders grew up in rural areas and have answered God’s call to return and minister there.

In his book, Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking All the Rurals, Shannon O’Dell writes,

For centuries, the rural church has been isolated and insulated from the greater Body of Christ by the sheer realities of geography. Those days are gone. There’s absolutely no reason that we cannot be networking together as leaders — those who are resisting the urge to settle — by sharing resources, encouragement, wisdom, and vision. We do not have to do it alone anymore; together we can do so much more and do it so much better.

O’Dell pastors a church in Bergman, Arkansas, population 407. His church is now the hub of a rural church network spanning 13 facilities throughout Arkansas and Texas, with another campus in Russia.

Pastor Jon Sanders is another church planter and pastor who’s waving the flag for rural ministry and church planting. In April 2009, he and his family left Peoria, Illinois, to launch a ministry in Flandreau, South Dakota. That year, Jon received a call from God to reproduce life-giving churches in rural communities across South Dakota, the Midwest and the world. Utilizing Facebook Live, The Rescue Church now meets in five communities and has started an online training course, Small Town, Big Church, to help support and equip other rural pastors.

Bryan Jarrett, lead pastor at Northplace Church (Assemblies of God) near Dallas, is a voice of influence and encouragement for the rural church. At the first annual Rural Matters Conference last September, he challenged leaders and pastors representing more than 16 denominations and networks to change how they think and talk about rural churches.

Jarrett has seen firsthand the impact life-giving churches can have in rural areas. That is why Northplace Church launched the Water Tower Network in 2012. This ministry helps support and train rural leaders and pastors. Jarrett sees clearly the challenges, but also the astronomical potential, in rural communities and is determined to reach the forgotten fields of North America.

Organizations like OneHope and the Assemblies of God, and the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, have begun to call together rural church planters and leaders. One major struggle of the rural church-planting movement is that most of the known and celebrated resources and authors are coming out of cities and urban contexts from the past 100 years of urban focus.

Mainstream church-planting resources are often unhelpful, and rural church-planting strategies are markedly different from strategies for any other context.

However, with more than 48 million people in rural America, there is an emerging and encouraging movement to plant churches in rural areas. Specialized resources for rural church planters are being developed. In April 2017, the Billy Graham Center launched the Rural Matters Institute. This organization is providing the support, training and community for those working in non-urban contexts, in partnership with other faith-based organizations.

Click here to read more.
Source: Christian Post