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rural churches 2
s I sat a year ago in the urban sanctuary of First FMC of Indianapolis, my focus suddenly shifted to the countryside. During the April 2011 Virtual Town Hall with Free Methodist bishops, Fillmore (Minn.) FMC Pastor Mike Hopper asked an intriguing question: “I recognize the emphasis on large population areas, but do you have suggestions for helping rural ministries grow and have a greater impact on their areas?” Hopper provided an important reminder that Free Methodists aren’t exclusively city slickers, suburbanites or country folks. From its earliest days, our denomination has ministered to people in both urban and rural areas. B.T. Roberts spent time in big cities and country settle-
ments as he followed his calling “to maintain the Bible standard of Christianity, and to preach the Gospel to the poor.” Two years ago, Time magazine reported, “America’s rural congregations, thinned by age and a population drain that plagues much of farm country, have gotten too small and too poor to attract pastors.” But pastors like Hopper (Page 7) and Dave Mathis (Page 9) reveal the harvest that can be reaped through ministry in small towns and country churches. Readers, we’d love to hear about your local church whether rural, urban or suburban. You may be far from the nearest town, but we’re Finley i Jeff nearby at fmcusa.org. [LLM] Managing Editor
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BY MARK O. WILSON
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling, Minnesota Prairie Roots
Two cows, grazing near the fence, observed a milk truck rumbling by. A sign on the truck read, “Homogenized, Pasteurized, Low-Fat Milk!” Bessie turned mournfully to Elsie and said, “Sure makes you feel insufficient and irrelevant.” Rural church leaders often feel insufficient and irrelevant. In recent years, the population shift toward urban centers has left small communities fighting for survival. This directly affects local churches, especially in rural areas. Thinned by the exodus of young people, aging congregations struggle to recruit and support pastors. Most sharp, young seminary grads opt instead for suburban staff positions with better salary packages. uuu
3 [feature] Shepherds landing in small pastures are often met with suspicion. Rural people assume — as Kathleen Norris quipped in “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography” — “if they were any good, they’d be working in a bigger place.” On top of this, ministry books, conferences and blogs exalt megachurches as the example for how effective ministry should be conducted. Rural church leaders are forced to sift through mountains of “helpful” information to find tidbits that may work. Left-behind congregations, as Ruth A. Tucker calls them in “Left Behind in a Megachurch World,” are often discounted as archaic and quaint — hardly worth the effort of investment — and definitely not
a viable force for spiritual renewal and community transformation. Insufficient. Irrelevant.
mum ministry bang for the buck. Slick and glossy won’t cut it. They just want the real deal and a good bargain.
Faith Second Look Before we toll the country-church death knell, perhaps we should, take another look and echo Mark Twain, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” Rural church reality isn’t nearly as dismal as the first glance indicates. First glances, after all, rarely reveal the substance. Christ loves His rural bride, who has learned to survive all sorts of adversity and still stands strong in the hamlets and crossroads of our land. In fact, let me suggest that the rural church should play a more central role in providing a relevant and significant example for her big-city sisters. Here are just a few of the things the rural church has to offer:
Frugality In these days of economic hardship, the rest of the country is learning what the rural folks already discovered — how to stretch a dollar. Churches in small places know how to get maxi-
Farmers understand faith. They plant the seeds, pull the weeds, do their best and leave the rest to God. Some might ridicule the simple faith of rural Christians, but there’s a good reason for their simplicity. God continually proves His faithfulness and supplies their daily bread.
Patience Country folks survive well because they keenly understand life’s seasons and rhythms. In winter, they rest, assured that spring is on the way. In summer, they wait for the ripening before plucking. This patience develops sustainable patterns for healthy life and ministry.
Significance Serving in “the sticks” teaches you the difference between significance and prominence. They are not the same thing, although young pastors sometimes confuse them. “My nose is prominent,” Rick Warren wrote on pastors.com, “but I could lose it and still live a happy life.
[feature] 4 On the other hand, my lungs and liver will never be seen, but they are far more significant. I’d die without them. You may be serving a small town or in circumstances with limited growth potential. So what? God put you there, and you’d better stay where God put you until God chooses to move you!”
Rootedness Many city dwellers are transplants. Rural blood runs deep, and relatives have a profound influence. Events such as Friend Day are especially productive in small settings because the relationship networks are so tight. When visitors show up at a rural church, they are likely to see some good friends. I have seen one enthusiastic new convert fill two rows with family members. Reaching one person often wins a whole family. Reaching a few families can win a whole community.
Accountability Nobody is anonymous in a hamlet. Small communities embody the scriptural principle of mutual accountability. Rural families engage in community watchfulness. For instance, if a child misbehaves, the news gets home before the child does.
Wherever I go in my small town, I’m on display, but that’s OK. This public scrutiny helps me walk circumspectly, and my life should be an open book anyway.
Intercession If you’re serving in a small place, consider this: Perhaps God has placed you there to be an intercessor. Maybe you have a different calling than your busy suburban ministry peers. While they are rushing from committee to committee and running programs, you can nestle up with your Savior and spend an extra hour interceding on their behalf.
No place is too small for God to show up. In fact, He
SPECIALIZES in unlikely,
Homegrown Leadership The rural church is an ideal environment to nurture fledgling leaders. It provides ample opportunities for service. The son of a country parson, I preached my first sermon at age 15 during Wednesday night prayer meeting. It lasted seven minutes, and the people were ecstatic about getting out of church so early. In that nurturing atmosphere, I learned to play guitar at youth meeting, sang in the choir, taught junior boys and even sat on a committee. All
those experiences were great training for my ministry today. If I had been raised in a suburban megachurch, I would not have been nearly as prepared for my present ministry assignment.
Revival No place is too small for God to show up. In fact, He specializes in unlikely, out-of-the-way places. Nearly every great revival movement in history began in a small community and spread to the urban population.
5 [feature] My heart tells me God wants to do it again. I believe He wants to bring revival to places that have experienced it before — and the rural community is the epicenter. All rivers flow to the sea. Smith Creek, just a hop and skip from my house, flows into the Namekagon River, which empties into the St. Croix River, merges with the mighty Mississippi River and eventually pours into
the great Atlantic Ocean. The smallness of the original stream makes no difference. It all ends in greatness. It’s not the size of your community, but the size of your God that counts. When God shows up, small streams will overflow to revival rivers, pouring out His love and glory on our thirsty land. Nothing on earth is more relevant and significant than this. [LLM]
Mark O. Wilson is the senior pastor of Hayward (Wis.) Wesleyan Church and the author of “Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose.” He writes about rural churches at revitalizeyourchurch.blogspot.com.
Virtual Town Hall who: You and the bishops of the
Free Methodist Church – USA
when: April 11, 2012
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Writing a New Memory
live in the city. Yet, as I travel across this country, I observe that doing church in a rural setting is as specialized and complicated as in the city, even as it’s wildly different. Rural settings and their churches have one unique and endearing characteristic: Everybody knows everybody. In the city, I may not even recognize people who live three doors down, but in the small town I grew up in, I could name everyone for two miles in every direction, and who used to live in each house, and their dogs! This is the rural distinctive. People know each other. This reality makes it hard for rural churches to invade the kingdom of darkness. We know all the rascals’ names and can’t imagine them fitting in at our church. Everybody comes presorted and prelabeled. Our brothers went to school with their sisters; their uncle had those mental problems; they know we know; and on and on. A rural church is known by everybody in town. They know who the hypocrites are, and they have plenty of reasons (real or imagined) for not hanging out at your church. Inhabitants of the kingdom of darkness aren’t going to wake up tomorrow and think, “If only I knew where a church was.” They know us, and have rejected us. We’ll have to change their minds. We’ll have to do something dramatic enough to break out of the mold they have conveniently created for us. Paint the church purple, hold service in the bowling alley, invite an ethnic church to worship with us, care for single mothers, be the designated driver for the bar, help a gay person find a job, tutor immigrants for driver’s license tests. Break their stereotype of what they think they know about Jesus’ followers. We know them. They know us. The rural world remembers. The rural memory may not always be accurate, but it is enduring. “Could this really be Joseph’s son?” they asked in Nazareth about Jesus. They had Joseph pigeonholed and couldn’t imagine that Jesus could be anything more than his daddy. A rural church has its own persona, its own history, its own “daddy.” Let’s be better than that history. Let’s be so much more that they say, “Could these really be Free Methodists?” [LLM]
The rural memory may not always be accurate, but it is enduring.
Bishop David Roller To read more from Bishop Roller, visit fmcusa.org/ davidroller.
S C RI P T U R E : Mark 1:4–5 Isaiah 43:18–21 Matthew 9:37–38
Into the Wilderness BY MIKE HOPPER
bald eagle flew majestically overhead as I left home for a day of ministry. Driving down the gravel road along a trout stream where outdoor baptismal services are held each summer, I passed the homes of church attendees and families we have been trying to reach with the good news of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist also prepared people’s hearts to trust in Christ. Notice where he ministered: “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Mark 1:4–5). John the Baptist ministered to the people in the wilderness, a low-population area. Rural crowds gathered to hear his message, and many also came out of metro areas (like Jerusalem) to listen to what he had to say. Lives were transformed as John preached repentance. Many rural churches have effective and expanding ministries in their wilderness communities (Isaiah 43:18–21). Jesus Christ told His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:37–38). Through the years, there has been a major population shift to the cities, and more workers are needed there. Rural areas, with the same spiritual needs, also remain part of God’s harvest field and desperately need workers. To which part of God’s harvest field is He calling you? [LLM]
Mike Hopper is in his 18th year as pastor of Fillmore (Minn.) FMC in a village of 75 residents. The number of people in Fillmore more than doubles each Sunday morning as Free Methodists worship.
Camp Meetings Lift Rural Spirits BY JENNIFER BARRETT
he Free Methodist seed planted in a Pekin, N.Y., orchard in 1860 didn’t take long to grow revivalist roots that spread far beyond the original soil. Branches from that plant reached the Beaver Valley area in Pennsylvania by 1890 in the form of a camp meeting that attracted large crowds from all over the countryside. As a result, Rochester, Pa., became the first Free Methodist society to form in the area,. Denominational and interdenominational camp meetings had been around since the early 1800s, and as the Wesleyan Holiness Movement gained momentum during the mid-1800s, they became increasingly in vogue. Members of rural churches attended these meetings in droves. Early settlers found themselves displaced from their former religious communities, and they craved the fellowship and spiritual exposure camp meetings provided. In some rural settings, formal churches didn’t exist, and ordained preachers were scarce. Camp meetings provided an outlet for Tri-State Free Methodist Camp participants gather for a photo during the both worship and greater social interaction. Aug. 14–24, 1919, camp meeting near New Brighton, Pa. Multiple churches in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia comprised the former Rochester District of the Pittsburgh Conference. For the 30 years before permanent grounds were established in 1922 in East Liverpool, Ohio, Early settlers church members packed their belongings and traveled to fairgrounds, groves, orchards, parks and other rural locations in the three states to attend the 10-day craved the camps. fellowship and In nearby Toronto, Ohio, the interdenominational holiness camp, Hollow Rock, is touted as the “oldest camp meeting in continual existence” since 1818. spiritual exposure Today, the Free Methodist Church – USA has 30 affiliated campgrounds. For a list and links to camp websites, visit fmcusa.org/free-methodist-camps. camp meetings Although the United States has changed dramatically since the 1800s, camp meetings continue to lift the spirits of thousands of people each year. [LLM] provided.
sharing the gospel
BY MICHAEL J. METTS
iving Hope FMC has long been a small congregation in the village of West Unity among the fields of northwest Ohio. Recently, however, the half-a-century-old church has experienced rapid growth in attendance and involvement. â€œThe last couple of years, there have been miracles going on,â€? said board member Bob Crisenbery, referring to the number of people who have accepted Christ at Living Hope. uuu
Photos by Michael J. Metts
[action] 10 More than half of the people at services are new Christians. In 2006, the church had an average attendance of 27 people. Last year, it averaged 105. “Our growth is through spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to a wanting community,” said Pastor Dave Mathis, who has made evangelism a strong focus of Living Hope. Mathis, 69, commutes 65 miles to the church from his home in Union City, Mich. The retired schoolteacher first became a ministerial candidate while in his 50s. Living Hope is his first appointment as a senior pastor. The church regularly hosts Southern gospel concerts featuring singers such as Stephen Hill and Ann Downing of the “Gaither Homecoming” video series. “We’ve had a lot of people come to Christ through these concerts,” Mathis said.
“I’ve found that it has to be part of our everyday life to check on people and make sure that they’re doing OK,” said Barb Crisenbery, secretary-treasurer of the church and Bob Crisenbery’s sister-in-law. Church leaders have worked hard to create opportunities for members to serve. Volunteers help to organize concerts, cook meals and work on construction projects. The church has many ministry opportunities, including vacation Bible school, providing food and financial help to West Unity residents in need, annual mission trips to a South Dakota Indian reservation, a prison ministry and a partnership with a home for women escaping abuse. “That’s the key to any church growth,” Mathis said. “The people feel part of the church, and they buy into the idea that this is their church, and they want to see it grow.”
Knocking on Doors
Mathis and Crisenbery knock on doors in the community and share the gospel. “To have a church grow, it takes a lot of groundwork and a lot of footwork. You can’t just sit in the office and plan on people coming in to you,” Mathis said.
Because Living Hope’s building is small and parking spaces are limited, the church began fundraising and setting aside a portion of each month’s offering to construct a new building. In June 2009, Living Hope voted to hire an architect and start building. The new facility is scheduled to open in May.
Christ First Members are quick to give God the glory for the church’s growth. “We put Christ and the cross first,” Bob Crisenbery said. “If you cannot see Christ and the cross, do not act. Never do it alone.” [LLM] t Pastor Dave Mathis (center), secretary-treasuer Barb Crisenbery (second from left) and board member Bob Crisenbery (second from right) stand with two members of the Living Hope FMC youth group in front of their new church building.
FM Family Stars in PBS Show BY JEFF FINLEY
ove over, Kardashians. There’s another family with a nationally televised reality show. Unlike their tabloidready TV predecessors, however, the Colgan family provides a viewing experience that’s suitable for the entire family. Already well known among Free Methodists in Indiana, David and Peggy Colgan and their family are now in the national spotlight. They were chosen from more than 400 families to appear on a Great Smoky Mountains episode of the PBS series “Getting Away Together.” “My dad half-jokingly sent me the information about the contest and said that the description of the family they were looking for sounded a little bit like our family,” said Amy Colgan, a deputy prosecuting attorney for Monroe County, Ind., and a member of the Bedford (Ind.) FMC. Peggy credited the To watch the selection partially to her show and read more family’s record of Smoky about the Mountain vacations. Her Colgans, visit bit.ly/fmpbs. grandparents and parents
vacationed in the Smokies. She and David, Wabash Park Camp director and a former pastor and superintendent, honeymooned there and have visited every year since then. They’ll celebrate their 50th anniversary Members of the Colgan family pose with a banner promoting the premiere of their Great Smoky Mountains episode of “Getting Away on June 23. Together,” which airs on PBS stations. David and back to the commitment we made Peggy’s love of the Smokies spread early on to go on vacation,” David said. to their three children — Amy; Deron, Public television is not known for the pastor of the Sugar Grove FMC in Terre Haute, Ind.; and Mark, chairman faith-based content, but the Colgans’ of the math department at Taylor Uni- light still shines in the episode. During a dulcimer lesson in Cades Cove, the versity in Upland, Ind., and a member of Wesley FMC in Anderson, Ind. Fam- instructor played “Amazing Grace.” ily vacations now include Deron’s wife, The family sang along spontaneously. “We prayed before filming that the Jennifer, and their children Mary (9), Lord could somehow use this experiMaggie (6), and Molly (2); and Mark’s ence, and I think the finished program wife, Kathy, and their adult children, does have an inspirational message David and Katie. about the importance of faith and “Through the years, people have family,” Mark said. [LLM] asked us why our kids were so responsive to us. I think it really goes
[news] 12 RISING MUSIC STAR ROCKS SKY LODGE Montello, Wis.
You might expect a popular singer to be found in an arena. Instead, Andy Cherry, whose “Our God’s Alive” is a top-five hit on Christian radio, spent a recent weekend leading worship at the North Central Conference men’s retreat at Sky Lodge Christian Camp. Read more about Cherry at bit.ly/andycherry.
LIVING HOPE CELEBRATES 100 YEARS Nescopeck, Pa.
Living Hope Community Church, formerly Nescopeck FMC, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary by giving away more than 2,600 Bibles during the community’s Christmas Boulevard display. The church’s efforts received coverage in two area newspapers. One of the stories is available online at bit.ly/Nescopeck.
SCANDRETT WINS STATEWIDE HONOR Bloomington, Minn.
Orin Scandrett, the community crisis pastor at Cedarcrest FMC, received the 2012 Spirit of Aging Award from Aging Services of Minnesota. Scandrett, 81, is a marathon runner. The former Minn-I-Kota Conference superintendent has written three books since 2003. For an article and a video about Scandrett’s honor, go to bit.ly/scandrett.
FM PLAYWRIGHT’S WORK ON STAGE Champaign, Ill.
Jennifer Goran of Mattis Avenue FMC wrote an original play, “A Week in Mercy Falls,” that was given a staged reading Feb. 4 at Parkland College’s theater. The play tells the story of the three Full sisters — Faith, Hope and Joy — in Mercy Falls, Ill. Participants included Sue and Claire Cowley and MacKenzie Wranovics.
The Rest of the Story Want to find indepth stories of remarkable Free Methodists? Visit fmcusa.org.
We want to hear from you! Tell us what your church is doing to impact lives in the United States and around the world. Submit your story at fmcusa.org/ yourstory.
Working Together to Remodel Chilean Church BY JEFF AND ANNE YERGER
team of 13 Pacific Northwest Conference members had no idea how their willingness to spend two weeks in Santiago, Chile, would make such a difference. Their promise to help with the construction and muchneeded funds was the impetus for the Casa Grande FMC members to enlarge and remodel their sanctuary. The big house, built in 1930, is the headquarters of the Free Methodist Church in Santiago and the home of a church planted by missionaries Ricardo and Beth Gómez three years ago. When Ricardo Gómez connected with team leader Jeff Yerger, a plan began to come to fruition. Before the team arrived, the church consulted architects, obtained permits, removed walls, tore out the old floor, and installed new columns and beams to support the second and third floors. Volunteer carpenFor expanded ters from southern Chile built the sanctuary platform, coverage, visit fmcusa. using the old tongue-and-groove flooring. A skilled org/yourstory. craftsman from Costa Rica used the old floor beams to build new doors and window frames. The Pacific Northwest men worked alongside Chilean church members as they hung strips of wood that attached to sheetrock for the dropped ceiling. To learn about They used old flooring for a wainscoting around the Volunteers In Service Abroad expanded sanctuary, covering the cement walls. opportunities, Two women on the team tore out the walls and visit flooring of an old shower room to begin constructing go.fmwm.org.
Members of the Pacific Northwest Conference hang a drop ceiling in Casa Grande FMC in Santiago, Chile.
a women’s bathroom. They also painted and repaired the children’s play structure. The Chileans showered the team with warm hospitality. Other FM churches in Santiago invited team members to their services, which were followed by refreshments. Even after the team left, the work went on. The church completed the sanctuary renovation by finishing the sheetrock, laying the floor tile, installing stained glass in the window frames and painting the walls. When the team arrived, the congregation included about 30 people. The Gómezes say 55 now attend the Sunday services. [LLM]
Sign of the Times BY KELLI WOMMACK
he brown wooden plaque hung in a prominent spot on the wall of the old white church with the steeple. The plaque displayed numbers. Its official title was “The Register of Church Attendance and Offering.” The metal numbers were carefully adjusted each week according to church attendance and tithe receipts. This sign may have seemed irrelevant and useless — a board with numbers that rarely changed. But to our church family, each attendance number represented a person, and each person was important. Each attendance When people were sick, we cared for them. Almost everynumber represented one who could carry a tune a person, and sang in the choir. If you didn’t sing in the choir, you helped each person was in the nursery. Our paid staff important. consisted of the preacher and the part-time music minister. Our volunteer staff included the rest of the church body. A rural church meant limited resources, but it didn’t have to mean limited reality. Our restrictions never defined us as a church. Because our finances were tight, we were creative and frugal. Our human resources were low, but we saw potential in everyone — the young and the old. Each person had a place to serve and belong. I now serve in a large metropolitan church, but I still find ways to maximize resources. I see great purpose in everyone, from the 8-yearold child who can pass out bulletins to the senior adult who can prepare brownies for a youth function. I return to that rural church on occasion. Though the original building and the wooden plaque were consumed in a fire, the sentiment remains. Church members realize they do not need a plaque as a weekly reminder. They know people are the most valuable resource. [LLM]
Photo by Amanda Raney
GROUP DISCUSSION:  What can be learned from the rural church perspective?
 What is your church’s most valuable resource?
 How does the rural church reflect the church in Acts?
Did you know there are three more discipleship articles on our website? They’re perfect for use in your small group or as a weekly supplement to individual study.
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[resources] REVITALIZE YOUR CHURCH This blog by Mark O. Wilson (Page 2) encourages pastors in rural communities: revitalizeyourchurch.blogspot.com. TRANSFORMING CHURCH Author Shannon O’Dell gives advice for “Transforming Church in Rural America”: bit.ly/odellrural.
You may worship in an isolated area, but you’re not alone. Here’s help for people in rural churches.
“RURAL MINISTRY” Experts reveal research results on challenges facing churches in rural areas: bit.ly/ruralministry. “CHURCH AND COUNTRYSIDE” Author Tim Gibson offers “insights from rural theology”: bit.ly/countrychurch.