Game Changer for the Rural Church

by Allison Hurtado, staff writer
Converge Church Planting

Loudonville, Ohio, is a quaint village of roughly 2300 people. It has two dollar stores, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, two family-run diners, a grocery store and 17 churches in about three square miles. The village is known for its Mohican National Forest, where over 100,000 come every year to camp, hike, canoe and kayak, and its annual mountain biking race that draws thousands. But it’s also known for another thing: New Hope Community Church. 

Why would someone start a church with 17 already in the immediate community? I traveled to frigid Ohio in January to find out. Driving southwest from Cleveland, I passed through rural roads and towns with single stoplights. There wasn’t much to see except snow-covered farmland. A few trucks passed me by, but once I arrived in Loudonville, and drove up to New Hope Community Church, I noticed a change. The ground was still covered with snow, but people were gathered around the building, laughing, and children ran around in their puffy coats. I personally couldn’t understand why anyone would stand outside when it was 7 degrees, but they all seemed happy to be there, even if their cheeks were rosy from the bitter winter air. I walked into a warm building and, just inside the doors, I was greeted and taken to see pastor Rob Paterson.

He was surrounded by teenagers, miked-up and sweaty from preaching his first service. Rob isn’t a little guy. He’s 6’2” and gives big, Canadian bear hugs (he is from Canada). I had only met him once before traveling to see him.

“Welcome to New Hope, we’re so glad you’re here!” I must’ve heard people say this a dozen times, followed by, “Why on earth would you visit in January?” A question I’ve pondered myself.

When Rob steps on stage to preach, an energy comes through him that you feel in the room. He’s loud, authentic and sold out for Jesus. Once a church planter in Indianapolis and Michigan, he took the helm of New Hope six years ago, originally planted by a pastor who grew up in Loudonville.

“There was another church meeting in this building, and they continually prayer-walked the community asking God for revival,” Rob said. “They were faithful and consistent people. Even though the church was dwindling, they had money in the bank. A couple years after that church closed, New Hope was started, with 240 attending their first service. It was an answer to prayer.”

What began with 240 people quickly grew into two Sunday gatherings, then into four before the church built an addition. Although the growth happened quickly, Rob says the reality is New Hope reached market saturation over the course of its 14 years. In other words, a church in a rural area can only grow so big. Once everyone knows about New Hope, they know. People were driving upwards of 60 miles to go to church on Sunday–in a small town that’s common. But Rob had a bigger picture, multiplication.

“Gone are the days in rural areas where you’re going to build a church and it’s going to keep growing and growing,” Rob said. “In a broad sense, the way to become a larger church isn’t by paving more parking lots and building bigger buildings, it’s to have more locations, to plant new churches. It’s multiplication. That is really the way to go. And that’s what we’ve seen.”

In 14 years, New Hope has planted four additional locations. Some have become autonomous churches that already have planted their own daughter churches. The newest site for New Hope is in Millersburg, a town 25 miles away, where they hold a Saturday night service. I asked how this is possible, when I know that one of the largest struggles in sparsely populated areas is finances.

“How do you do it without money?” Rob asked. “You do it creatively. We took up a special offering for our 10th anniversary, which we used to launch Milllersburg. We used tons of volunteer labor hours, and right now we kill our team to do ministry in two locations. We know it’s not sustainable long term.” 

That’s where New Hope is looking to next: sustainability in multiplication. Once the building in Loudonville is paid off, Rob and his team plan to start a church planting residency program. Church planters will be trained at New Hope during year one and deployed for a year to the regional area they are going to plant. The planter’s salary is covered up until the church launches, when New Hope will repeat the process with another planter. Rob says one of the biggest pressures on a new church plant is salary, so they are looking to eliminate that need. His plan is to plant five churches every decade.

“On Easter we see 1500 to 2000 people at our locations combined,” Rob said. “In Loudonville alone we see 700-800, but in a village of our size there is no way we could become a church of 1700. Our goal to create a ministry footprint to reach 10,000 people. We do that with other locations steeped in our DNA. At the end of the day all we want is to reach more people and have a bigger influence for Jesus.” 

Learn more about how Converge starts churches.

    Point - September 2018

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