Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be all glory forever and ever.
Friends in Christ, over the last several months we have been looking in-depth at what exactly goes into making a congregation in a rural setting vital; how do these churches discover hope for the future of their ministry in an ever changing world? We have explored the aspects of congregation vitality: Prayer, Worship, Making Disciples, Evangelism, Caring Ministries, and Leadership. We have been following the outline laid out for us in the book Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations by David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung.
However, there is one aspect of building a vital congregation in the rural setting that we have yet to explore; the final chapter of their book entitled Context: Discovering the Gift of Place.
In the world of Real Estate the motto is, “Location, Location, Location.” When it comes to these different aspects of building a vital rural congregation, I would say that this motto also applies, and I would say this is the point Poling-Goldenne and Jung were making in their final chapter as well. “A key to effective ministry is acknowledging, celebrating, and using the gifts of a congregation’s place and its people” (96). All of this is to say that none of those other aspects matter unless a congregation is in tune with its people, and its surrounding area; that is the context of the congregation. To put it even more simply, what works for a vital congregation in Fargo is not going to necessarily work in Jamestown; and what works for a vital congregation in Jamestown is not necessarily going to translate to Medina and/or Streeter. Each church in these different contexts are going to have to find ways that work for their own context in these areas of building a vital congregation.
In this last chapter of Poling-Goldenne and Jung’s book, the autors list off four different types of contexts in which congregations that identify themselves as “rural” fall into, according to Canadian sociologist R. Alex Sim’s 1988 book Land and Community. Those categories are: Ribbonville, Agraville, Might-have-been-ville, and Fairview. Poling-Goldenne and Jung take this one step further and add one more context of their own to this list: Countryville. Each one of these contexts have their own gifts and drawbacks that are unique to them that the congregations in these contexts have to figure out and overcome if needed. Each one has their own unique set of aspects within the categories that we have discussed over the last several months that work for them that will give them hope for the future in making them a vital rural congregation.
The bottom line that the entire book Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations points out is that there are a variety of areas that congregations can focus on in order to bring hope for the future as a vital rural congregation, but how those aspects are implemented will be different for each congregation depending on their own unique context. The only way to find out what works for us, the churches of English and St. Luke Lutheran in Medina and Streeter North Dakota, is to be willing to take some risks, try some new things, and most of all not be afraid to find out what doesn’t work for us, in order to find out what does.
What we learn from all of this is that this is an ongoing process. It is an ongoing process that I am personally excited to continue to pursue and walk beside and with you all as we work together to discover hope for our future as vital rural congregations.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters.