RURAL CHURCH & An Executive Summary of the Book: Transforming Church in Rural America

by Jeff Larson, pastor of Life Church, Aurora, IN; missional coach 2016.

For years the whole world moved with technology while I sat on the sidelines. Everyone I knew had a smartphone. I bought a blackberry once and it sat in my dresser drawer for about six months before I gave it to my nephew. I had no idea how those new gadgets worked. I’d rather hide my head in the sand than to take the time to learn how to use them. Finally, one day while shopping for a phone for my bride that I was talked into giving it another try by a salesman. Today, I have no idea what I would do without mine.

If a person understands how something works, they are more likely than not able to be successful. Shannon O’Dell understands how the rural church works, and that is why he is so successful. In his book, that I would wholeheartedly recommend with two thumbs straight up, Transforming Church in Rural America, O’Dell walks the reader through his journey from being a successful youth pastor in a mega church in Oklahoma to pastoring a small and dying church in South Lead Hill, Arkansas, population 93.

I first picked up this book because the rural church is something I am very interested in, but what hooked me to read it was that it was endorsed by names like Mark Beeson, Ed Young, and Craig Groeschel. I thought to myself, if these mega church pastors have read this book and recommend it, there has got to be something here. Boy was I right!

What I love about this book is that O’Dell starts at the very beginning and walks the reader, step by step, through his entire process of wrestling with God over the call to pastor this church, his first days in leadership, facing opposition, and seeing his church grow to unheard of measures. O’Dell often uses Scripture to help the reader understand the concept that it is God that grows the church and He allows His followers to be used in the process.

O’Dell conviction that “rural America is perhaps more churched and more unchurched than any place on earth” and ‘A great harvest for Christ is waiting in the heartland and rural communities of America[1]” makes the reader understand his dedication and passion for the church that resides in rural America. Many people believe that because it is not found in the center of a metropolitan area that it is irrelevant or unimportant and destined to shrivel up and die. O’Dell and Brand New Church are living proof to the contrary. The world wants us to believe that bigger and newer is always better, but O’Dell explains that this is not the way that God operates.

The work that O’Dell was called to was not easy. It took much effort and dedication to see God do what He had planned for Brand New Church. O’Dell said, “I have never met a rancher who expects his herd to grow and multiply without a lot of hard work and without a lot of strategic effort[2].” Even this quote screams rural. It is not a reference toward something that most city folks would understand, but anyone who lives in a rural community would get this right away. It is again written with the rural pastor in mind.

Throughout the book, O’Dell uses the word ‘VALUE’ as an acrostic to tell about Vision, Attitude, Leadership, Understanding, and Enduring Excellence in the rural church. All five of these elements are vitally important is seeing the rural church grow to all that God has called it to be. Each of the five have intricate V.A.L.U.E. in itself that aids the other to build upon. Helping the reader to see this from the inside of Brand New Church and how God used it in their ministry helps us to see it happening and how to implement it into ours as well.

There are multiple thoughts that O’Dell shares that were exceptionally meaningful. He said, “Listen, if you aren’t casting vision, the only ones who will want to serve with you are those who are interested in maintaining control of the status quo[3].” Later he said, “Since we believe that we stand under the authority of Scripture, then, man, let’s start acting that way.[4]” Then he said, “When a pastor is leading effectively, he has everything in the house in order.[5]

This book is worthwhile to anyone who serves in the church, whether it is a paid position or a volunteer position, and also regardless if your ministry is in a rural setting or even in a busy urban setting. The principles that O’Dell share are extremely important regardless of the location. I will keep this book and refer to it again and again.

[1] Page 18

[2] Page 54

[3] Page 104

[4] Page 130

[5] Page 135