BOOK REVIEW – Transforming Church in Rural America

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.

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2 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW – Transforming Church in Rural America

  1. I certainly agree that the transformation of a good rural church into an urban congregation meeting in a rural location is quite unfortunate. I have served several rural congregations. One congregation met in an area with no other building within a mile. Several met in communities of less than 500 people. A congregation is urban or rural, not by the size of its potential evangelistic outreach, but by the nature of its life and mission.
    A good rural congregation is catholic, small c. It serves every person in the community, willingly and without jealousy.
    A good rural congregation is focused to bring the Bible to life in the minds and hearts of the entire community, without bias toward any gender, race, ethnic group, economic group, or any other group.
    A good rural congregation keeps the love and stewardship of the soil alive and serving, even for those who have given up farming and commute to urban jobs.
    A good rural congregation supports the community by encouraging its people to serve the community in ways of their own choosing, such as political office, ambulance and fire service, school activities, etc.
    A good rural congregation supports the community entrepreneurs in every way possible, including stores, post office, media. This even includes potentially competing congregations.
    These are just a part of my thinking. You can find more at my web site, http://www.karlevans.org Call if you like. I visited your county at one point, stayed at the La Borde House. It was great fun.
    Thank you
    Karl C Evans

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