A few closing thoughts from Rural Renewal Summit Hosts Kathleen Blackey and Jon Davis.

Seeing God at work is powerful, even if it’s only through our screens. The Rural Renewal Summit wrapped up on Saturday afternoon, after opportunities to learn from rural pioneer missionaries like Hugh Halter, rural pastors like Abraham and Amanda Gross, rural denomination leaders like Leah Hidde-Gregory and Tim Thompson and Fresh Expressions practitioners like Michael Beck, Matt Lake and Luke Edwards.

The Summit was a celebration of God’s work in rural contexts across North America. While speakers did not shy away from the many challenges these parts of the country face, they also addressed the unique opportunities churches have to minister among them.

Big Ideas for Small Towns

Tim Thompson encouraged and inspired us to be a Local, Listening, Serving, Celebrating, and Proclaiming Church. This is the Rock upon which Jesus builds His Church. He also reminded us to be careful in how we compare ourselves saying “The grass is not always greener on the other side. Sometimes it’s astroturf.”

Michael Beck quoted John Wesley saying, “The World is my Parish.” He then challenged us that most of us live where “The Parish is my World.” We focus on getting people to a building on Sundays rather than going to where people are with the Gospel. According to Michael, “Missional innovation can happen anywhere.”

Leah Hidde-Gregory was a wealth of information on pastoring in the local small church, small-town context, calling us to be faithful as God was entrusting us with a specific corner of His Kingdom. One suggestion she made regarding youth ministry was that “a community youth groups accomplish more than one single church trying to do youth group.”

Abraham and Amanda Gross gave a compelling call to be a present witness in our communities in loving kindness to others and to commit to this work over the long haul of life. They reminded us that “There’s no chart or graph for the fruit of the Spirit.”

Hugh Halter detailed Kingdom Ecosystems that incubate good works. These good works embody: cottage industry that is benevolent, positive, and entrepreneurial in nature; some are focused on social justice making the world a better place; others are incarnational homes where Christ’s love is manifest and people come to faith.

Ron Johnston brought us full circle, reminding us that Jesus loves His church and His compassion for us is not based on budgets, attendance, or good works.

What is the Future of the Rural Church in North America?

What does the future of the Rural Church look like in North America? It would be easy to assume that it is inextricably linked to population changes, economics, and social issues that shape the small towns where these churches are located. And yet, perhaps it’s not that simple.

History holds stories of how small bands of Christians who are committed to loving and serving a particular city, town, or neighborhood, have often brought new vitality along with their spiritual message.

Stories like the Irish monks who established monasteries that often grew into towns, Anabaptist farmers who built and furnished homes that last for generations, and the growing discipleship movements that are reshaping life in parts of the Southern hemisphere.

We should expect that when small bands of Christians dedicate themselves to loving and serving rural North America, the same results will be seen in time.

We cannot assume that this means rural churches should continue life and ministry as normal. The broader shifts in culture require a shift in mindset and approach for how ministry is carried out. Fresh Expressions is committed to working with local congregations and rurally-focused denominations to develop strategies for today’s North American mission fields.

Some resources you can already take advantage of include hosting a Rural Church Workshop, listening back to Season One of the Rural Renewal Podcast, and participating in the upcoming training event “Both/And: Hybrid Worship and Hospitality for Small and Rural Church” with Jason Moore.

Hope for Rural North America

In a polarized, fractured, and broken world, we have hope. At the Rural Renewal Summit, we witnessed what that hope looks like in the small towns of North America. The way the world changes for the better is when people have an encounter with the Lord, their lives are transformed by grace, and they work for transformation in the places they call home.

At the heart of Fresh Expressions’ Rural Renewal work is the belief that, in Christ, the people of rural North America will become a new creation and all things will be made new.

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