I pastor a small but growing church in a small town in New Hampshire, and I thought the region where I minister was rural – until I looked up Harrison, Arkansas, the town where Shannon O’Dell pastors.
In reality, the town of 25,000 where I minister is twice the size as Harrison, and our county has a population ten times that of Boone County. Let’s face it, Shannon knows what is means to be rural.
So it disappointed me when, after the first chapter or two, Shannon’s book Transforming Church in Rural America slipped into pretty much the same kind of verbiage and paradigms I have seen in countless books written by church growth gurus. And when I checked out the website for his church and his blog (which he repeatedly plugs), I was not confronted with what I think of as a rural church. The imagery and verbiage was that of a megachurch mentality.
I do not want the reader to think that Shannon does not have good things to say in his book. He does. But I was disappointed to hear that what Shannon really means by “transforming church in rural America” is transforming it into church as it is being done in urban America. This does not resonate with me at all.
After all the hoopla over the megachurch phenomenon, so many large churches are trying to now reverse engineer community back into their churches through small groups and accountability and discipleship. These things exist already in a healthy small churches (what I call ‘intimate churches’). That’s not to say that all small churches are healthy or that all healthy churches or small. It is simply to say that the answer to ministry in rural America does not necessarily have to be rock bands and multi-site ministry.
To be honest, I expected more from this book than I probably should have. It is a well written look at Shannon O’Dell and the ministry of Brand New Church. In my opinion, however, it fell short of what we should be saying to ministers struggling in rural churches.