Transforming Church in Rural America

Transforming Church in Rural AmericaI’ve been to a lot of conferences and I’ve read a lot of books, but seldom do I hear much about rural churches. We are told that we must change culture through reaching the urban cities, but rural America is not as important. It seems that to be considered successful, a church must have thousands of members. But the reality is that most churches are in rural communities and average less than 100 people per week. Communities where everyone knows everyone, and communities where people still need Christ. I was excited to get my hands on a copy of Transforming Church in Rural America by Pastor Shannon O’Dell, and I want to share a few of my thoughts with you.

But before I  talk about the book, I need to share part of my story. I pastor in a small city of less than 7000 people. It’s where both my wife and I grew up, and it’s where we plan on raising our children. It’s a city that is full of churches, some that have been in existence for over 100 years. And most importantly, it is a city that I love. I can relate to the people that live here because I understand them. So I am passionate about the rural church. I have even turned my desire to help rural churches learn how to integrate technology and use the internet into a small part time consulting opportunity.

When I started reading this book, I really could not put it down. I read the entire book in two days, while constantly asking myself why there weren’t more books about the rural church. It’s great to read a story of a church that followed a God-given vision and worked through some pretty big problems along the way. It gives me hope that God can transform any community when we get serious about following Christ. The book starts off by sharing some of the “Unwritten Rural Rules”

  • Successful churches grow in thriving urban or sprawling suburban America.
  • Sparsely populated rural communities are behind the times and not worth our time.
  • Cities are strategic; the country is inconsequential.
  • The best, most visionary pastors are hired by growing visionary congregations.
  • Rural churches can only afford the leftovers from the leadership pool.
  • If you want to be a “successful” pastor, go to the cities.
  • If you want to drive a minivan with 200,000 miles on it, go to the sticks.

Like the author, I want to break all the rural rules. I want to see every church healthy and growing and transforming lives. But I also know that rural churches have their own set of problems to overcome. Most pastors have to learn how to deal with family dynasties that think they rule the church, learn how to operate on a very limited budget, and learn how to promote change and share vision with people who are very happy with the status quo. The author talks about the continual process of change-conflict-growth that we will experience in the rural church. I have definitely seen that take place, even in our 5 year old church.

This is a book about leadership, about vision, about change, and about opportunity. This is a very transparent book, one that shares both the successes and failures that the author has experienced in the church. I love the practical ideas for reaching out to the local communities. As a tech geek, I am fascinated by their use of satellite to reach smaller communities through video venues. I see great value in connecting the leadership and vision and resources of stronger churches with smaller churches that need help. It is a great picture of cooperation and I can envision many more similar partnerships and mergers in the future.

Overall I highly recommend this book. If you are part of the leadership of a rural church, don’t lose hope. Read this book and decide if you are willing to go through the process of change-conflict-growth. I’m afraid that too many of our rural churches are content simply going through the motions while the church gets smaller year after year. I want to see churches find their God-given mission and lead people to Christ while transforming their communities. This book will help guide you through the process of becoming that type of church. It doesn’t answer what style or denomination you should be, but it challenges you to truly love your community and find every way possible of reaching it. Here’s a video with more info.

Disclaimer Policy: This was a book that I received as part of a blog contest. See my full policy here.


I am a former design engineer who now pastors Cornerstone Community Church in Galax, Virginia. I'm passionate about following Jesus and I love technology. I've been married to Jennifer for 28 years, and we have three adult children.

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1 Response

  1. July 11, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Morris. Mike Morris said: New blog post: Transforming Church in Rural America […]

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