Rural Matters

by Paul Mitton, Converge Rocky Mountain Executive Minister
Rural Matters

The surprising results of the recent presidential election have been largely attributed to a key strategic move by Donald Trump’s campaign. They found a way to engage and give a voice to "forgotten men, women and children" across the United States. Those living in the rust belt or rural America rose up in surprising numbers to vote for the newly elected president. The message was clear. Forgotten America is real and filled with people who should be taken seriously.

Coincidentally, at approximately the same time a ministry study group, Rural Matters, began in-depth research on how to fill rural and remote communities in America with Christ-centered, healthy, transformational churches. They discovered rural America is often forgotten by evangelical denominations, who tend to focus on megachurches. However, the eternal destinies of those living in rural America are just as important as those who have migrated to urban centers. Rural Matters research was especially interesting to the leaders of Converge Rocky Mountain. Our goal to add 100 churches in 10 years focuses on filling communities with a fresh expression of the gospel. Most of our Rocky Mountain region is rural and remote.

The Rural Matters team concluded, "The United States has long been a supply line for foreign missions, sending individuals and families to serve remote, difficult and unreached peoples in areas around the world. In the spirit of fulfilling the Great Commission, churches and individuals alike become senders and are sent themselves through prayer, service and financial resourcing. Yet honoring the Great Commission calls for concern for all people, including those living in our own communities. A significant proportion of unchurched individuals reside in rural communities of America. The deteriorating spiritual condition of rural areas, combined with the unique challenges of small-town communities, calls for renewed focus on church planting in rural America."

In response to this study, we are doubling down on efforts to plant in urban settings and be the premier planting organization when it comes to launching new congregations in rural settings. To make this happen, we are focusing on four key areas:

1. Discover, develop, deploy

To effectively plant in the rural Rockies, we need to embrace a new truth that church planters come in a variety of shapes, styles and backgrounds. We are looking for people who:

  • Love God and people
  • Communicate effectively
  • Have an inspiring grasp of God’s Word
  • Possess an entrepreneurial spirit

We want to prepare people from all walks of life for ministry. Church residency programs are currently being developed to prepare planters with ministry and missionary skills, learning how to best connect with the local culture. As much as possible, we want to recruit rural planting couples who have a heart and a deep love for small-town America.

 2. Focus on ‘pockets of lostness’

As our pastors prayerfully determine where the next church should be planted, it is important to identify communities that have no vibrant expression of the gospel in a healthy, growing church. Pastor Ty DesEnfants said that often people would ask why he planted in Lusk, Wyoming. "It’s such a dark place," they would say. Knowing that many have found Christ through his new church, DesEnfants said, "Maybe Converge Rocky Mountain should keep asking, ‘Where is the next darkest place?’ And plant there.”

 3. Business as mission

We'll explore the business as mission church planting model. Expansion director Marlan Mincks, coupled his new church in Iowa with a pizza shop/family movie theater. Mike Makalusky was executive pastor in a church birthed through a day care business. In many rural areas counseling needs go unmet. A church could become the primary provider for social solutions including treatments for mental health, drug addiction, suicide prevention and more. Business as mission models enable church planters to gain sufficient financial resources, build neighborhood trust, add value and vitality to their local communities. 

 4. Generous Funding

Studies have shown there is great benefit to a rural planter receiving generous financial support from established churches: small-town and urban churches that catch the vision to reach forgotten people in forgotten places. DesEnfants’ church in Lusk, Wyoming, was able to raise $120,000 in a little over six months through the investments of partner churches in Wyoming. A couple has already pledged funds for the next Wyoming church plant. This kind of generous funding makes it possible for churches to thrive in small-town settings.

We are blessed to have excellent leaders, pastors, business people, farmers, ranchers, teachers, medical experts and even rocket scientists in our smalls towns. Pockets of people spread across the Great Plains or nestled in the majestic mountains. Valuable people resources who care about their communities and believe every life matters in light of eternity. 

Together we will reach urban centers and see some congregations skyrocket with numerical growth. But most of the time, those of us in churches will transform the Rockies one life at a time. Over a cup of coffee at the downtown cafe, or a conversation while mending fences, or talking with a parent on the way to volleyball sectionals or maybe a firefighting buddy. Maybe you'll be a planting couple in one of these new churches. Maybe your church will invest in a small town that needs your help. Maybe you are a layperson whom God will equip and deploy as a bi-vocational pastor. Together let's reawaken a renewed passion to reach our rural, remote areas and help forgotten men, women and children find their way back into the arms of Christ. Rural matters to him and to us. 

    Point - September 2018

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