It seems that the church growth movement has at times become very isolated to the churches that start big and stay big. Most of the information and resources are wired for churches that are either just starting or not transitioning. While the church planting movement is amazing and so needed in this time and in the dimensions of our current world, we tend to overlook the pastors and areas of well established churches that need the wisdom of transition. This is well needed in the rural areas of the Southeast where the church is entrenched in the culture and society yet can be poised to make a huge impact on the community they are planted in. Being a pastor in a rural area and being raised as a pastor’s son in a rural area, this book is way overdue for those of us who have bought into the transformation movement.
In “Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking all the Rurals”, we are introduced to Pastor Shannon O’Dell of Brand New Church. This church started as a very small rural church. As a matter of fact, Shannon tells us that his church started as a below average church in attendance in a rough area for growth. This is not a church plant and not a typical church story. This story walks the reader through the difficult dimensions of church growth, church polity, and the everyday issues that rural pastors face.
What I appreciate more than anything is the emotion that Shannon shares with the reader. Too many church growth book writers come across as Supermen who have no emotion and seem afraid to share how the pains of change affected them or just seem not to care. Most writers and pastors seem unapproachable and detached from the struggles that small church pastors face. They fail to write about the emotion they walk through on their journey and often come across as cold and uncaring to the unique personality of the church that can still be used to reach the community they are in.
Shannon shares his heart for his people while staying true to the vision God gave him on that special white couch. He shares the struggles, the hurt, and the tears he and his family faced while transforming Brand New Church. He shares the struggles the church faced and the difficulties they presented as Shannon took the church through the plan God has for them. This is the honesty many pastors of established churches are looking for in transformation resources. We need to know that it is a hard road, but well worth the travels we endure.
One of the other things that I sense from Shannon’s writing and his heart is that he believes that the existing church can be transformed into what God wants. In our area, God is blessing our churches with pastors who have bought into this idea. At the height of the church planting movement (which is vastly needed in an ever increasing non-Christian country), we cannot forget the existing church and believe that God still has a plan for it.
If you are in the midst of church growth, in a rural area, or just need some encouragement from someone who has been there, you need to read this book. That’s where Shannon blessed me the most. Being in a rural area, seeing great changes in our church, and experiencing the change, conflict, growth model, I needed to hear from someone who has been there. This book carries great illustrations, great teaching helps, and video links that will let you hear specifically from Shannon in this journey.
Randy is the pastor of Camp Creek Baptist Church in Lancaster, South Carolina.