I’ve been serving local churches in ministry for over a decade. All of them have been small churches struggling to find ways to grow. Some have been limited by a worship of the past, others were hampered by overbearing leaders and others still by poor location combined with limited facilities. In his book, Transforming Church in Rural America, Shannon O’Dell writes a church growth book specifically geared to small churches in small population areas. By using examples from his own congregation in rural Arkansas, O’Dell challenges the ‘myth’ that only churches in large urban/suburban settings can grow and succeed in dynamic ministry.
Through the use of the acronym VALUE (Vision; Attitude; Leadership; Understanding; Enduring Excellence) O’Dell imparts principles that a congregation of any size can follow. The author outlines his own successes and failures for the reader’s benefit. The book is written in a very conversational tone that makes it both easy to read and to understand.
As for negatives, they are minor. There is an emphasis on vision throughout the entire book. The other principles are overshadowed by O’Dell’s focus on developing, adopting and communicating vision to leaders and congregants alike. The book might be better promoted on how to develop vision for the rural congregation. Although I did appreciate the emphasis that a leader with no vision has no business being the lead minister.
Also, under-emphasized throughout the book is one of the major keys to O’Dell’s success: a supportive leadership. Experience has taught me that in order to effect change in the traditional, country church you must have the lay-leadership in your corner. If not, change will not occur. O’Dell’s claim that change produces conflict is 100% accurate, and without leaders that are long-time members of the church giving support, a minister will not be able to achieve his vision, no matter how clear it is.
I would recommend this book to any leader in the rural church who desire to cast God’s vision before the church. The principles O’Dell outlines are solid even though his methods may not work in every congregation.