On March 11, 2017 a leadership conference for rural and small town churches called Grow! was held at Cornerstone Church in Litchfield, MN. Over 300 pastors and ministry leaders from across the Midwest attended the inaugural Grow conference designed to provide church leaders information on how to minister effectively, encourage them to see their unique role in God’s plan, and help them take the steps that can impact their world for all of eternity.
Below is a Q & A with two Grow Conference Participants:
David Hugare, Lead Pastor, Zion Covenant Church, Ellsworth, WI
Eric Weaver, Lead Pastor, First Baptist Church, Forest City, IA
- What did you learn from this conference about ministering effectively in rural/small towns?
Really enjoyed meeting Chad Hunt (a ministry consultant with the Unstuck Group, and a rural pastors’ coach at the Center of Rural Church Advancement) and learned the importance of creating a Discipleship pathway and gained some really practical how-to steps and tools to implement and use right away in our context. Chad was great and worth the price.
While there are some practical takeaways, there are a few overarching themes that stuck with me. One of the big takeaways is the fact that lost people matter and ministry in rural settings is critical. There was a common thread or assumption that what we are doing as rural churches matters. That is encouraging. Another unspoken theme but one that I am walking away with is the need for each of us to start somewhere. It might be with our leadership team, with our discipleship strategy, or with a better exegesis of our context. There was an encouraging tone to the day that seemed to say, “Hey…wherever you’re at…you can do it…trust God and go for it!” There was not one formula or cohesive strategy that was presented. That’s good.
- What encouraged you to view your church’s location as being strategically geographically placed by God?
Appreciated the encouragement from Dr. Leith Anderson (the keynote speaker and NAE President) and the others in the main session.
The session with Ben Winchester (Rural Sociologist) on Rewriting the Rural Narrative was outstanding. That was a seminar/workshop that was very different than other church leadership types of experiences. While it might have been a bit like drinking from a fire hydrant, the content left me thinking, “Wow, rural communities are not dying! There is life there and it matters!” Also, one of our team members was blown away by the Rural Poverty workshop with Jeff Garland (Pastor of Pastoral Care with Cornerstone Church and Meeker County Sheriff’s Office Chaplain) and Heather Jeseritz (Program Coordinator at United Community Action Partnership). We have been wrestling with our missions philosophy in terms of globally focused at the expense of overlooking the needs within our reach. Jeff and Heather’s hearts and message landed our team with tremendous impact. We look forward to seeing what God has in store.
- What tangible steps/tips did you learn that you hope will have a big impact on your community for all of eternity?
Discipleship pathways, exploring how we can take steps to minister to those in poverty.
Chad Hunt said something in his workshop on Discipleship Pathways that really stuck with me. He said that one of the loneliest places for guests to be in our churches is the moment when the service concludes. It’s when the foyer is crowded with people who seem to be engaged in various levels of conversation and if you don’t know anyone or how to engage in conversation, it is a lonely feeling walking out of a crowded room. Wow. He suggested some kind of strategic hospitality that could happen when the service concludes. This might give us a better chance at catching new guests. Man! We are excited about this idea!
- How did you feel encouraged discussing the unique needs found in small town churches?
The encouragement came from being reminded that we are not alone and that small town/rural ministry is real ministry where people experience real hurts and is a place where real ministry can take place through the life of the body of Christ.
On this point I found Leith Anderson’s opening message to be outstanding. His retelling of his journey and experiences was refreshing. He made a point of saying that churches of varying sizes are not simply bigger and smaller versions of one another. He spoke of a church as being a CAT and another being a COLLIE and so on. His point was well taken. As our church continues to bump up against the 400 person barrier, we have been operating with practices of a church much smaller. Leith was a fantastic contribution to the overall experience.
- What sort of camaraderie did you experience with other leaders of small town churches?
We were able to connect up with church leaders who are in our area and while at the conference share similar learning experiences over lunch.
While I appreciate the question and the heart behind it, this was not one of our goals for the event. We brought a large team of our leaders and key volunteers (18 in all) with the hopes of growing as a church team. We didn’t go looking to network or develop camaraderie with other church leaders. We leveraged the day for our team to grow together and share a common experience that would give us a shared vernacular and vision. To that end, it was awesome. We didn’t try to connect with other churches, and that was good for us. In summary, the event was outstanding. The Litchfield crew was awesome! The volunteers and hospitality teams were great. We praise God for the courage and obedience of the Cornerstone family for seeking after God. Their testimony stands as a great encouragement to us!