Show Notes

Of the challenges facing rural North America, healthcare remains one of the most pressing. What can local churches do to help?

In this episode, Allen Stanton, author or Reclaiming Rural returns alongside Sidney Everhart to discuss how they’ve seen churches help their members and their communities stay healthy.

Sidney Everhart currently serves as the Community Engagement Specialist at the Missouri Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church where she works with rural churches as they explore mission and service opportunities. She attended the University of Missouri-Columbia and received undergraduate degrees in health science and communication and a master’s in public health with an emphasis in promotion and policy.

Allen Stanton is an ordained pastor in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. He currently serves in extension ministry, managing a large initiative to expand access to dental care in rural areas for the College of Dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Allen is the author of Reclaiming Rural: Building Thriving Rural Congregations (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021). 

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Interview Summary

Community service is not separate from our identity in the church, but a profound expression of it.

Allen Stanton

In this episode of the Rural Renewal Podcast, we delve into how rural churches can more effectively integrate community service into their fundamental identity. Guests Allen Stanton and Sidney Everhart offer deep insights into making meaningful connections within the community through faith-based initiatives.

Allen Stanton currently manages a Tennessee initiative aimed at expanding dental care access in rural areas. Allen has a robust background in rural church support and community development. Sidney Everhart utilizes her expertise in public health to foster relationships between churches and their communities. She is a community engagement specialist from Missouri.

Integration of Church and Community

Our service activities should reflect who we are as a church.

Sidney Everhart

Community service activities are not just additional programs but are integral to the church’s identity. Allen and Sidney argue for a seamless blend where community engagement is a direct reflection of the church’s values and beliefs. They advocate for churches to act as living embodiments of their mission, actively engaging in services that resonate with their spiritual objectives.

Challenges and Innovations in Rural Ministries

Stanton and Everhart share stories of rural churches adapting to challenges by adopting innovative strategies like telehealth and partnerships with health organizations, proving crucial during times of need such as the COVID-19 pandemic. These adaptations are not just responses to immediate challenges but also steps towards a more engaged and responsive church that meets its community where they are.

Innovation in rural ministry isn’t just a choice; it’s a necessity.

Allen Stanton

The Role of Churches in Public Health

Churches are uniquely positioned to meet public health needs.

Sidney Everhart

Highlighting the strategic role of churches in rural health initiatives, the discussion points to examples where churches facilitated vaccine distribution and health education, leveraging their trusted status within the community. This role extends beyond traditional spiritual services, placing churches at the heart of public health advocacy and education.

Sustainable Church Practices

Sidney emphasizes the importance of churches setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals to sustain their community projects effectively and meaningfully. These goals ensure that the church’s actions are aligned with their capacities and community needs, leading to more impactful and enduring contributions.

Setting SMART goals helps ensure our initiatives are both visionary and practical.

Sidney Everhart


Allen concludes by stating this discussion “reiterates the church’s powerful role in weaving together the spiritual and communal threads of rural life.” The episode encapsulates the potential of rural churches to significantly impact their communities by aligning their spiritual missions with community-centric services.

Reflection Questions

  1. How can your church integrate its spiritual identity with practical community services?
  2. What unmet community needs can your church uniquely address?
  3. Which existing community services can your church partner with to expand its impact?
  4. What role does building and maintaining trust play in your church’s community service initiatives?
  5. Can you identify any underutilized talents within your church that could benefit the wider community?
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Jeanette Staats
About the Author

Jeanette Staats

Jeanette has over 20 years of diverse experience in collegiate ministry, specializing in general oversight, staff coaching and development, children's ministry, and discipleship. She holds a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Professional Writing from Virginia Tech and a Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies from the John Leland Center for Theological Studies. She also serves on the board for The Ecclesia Network. Jeanette is an avid Hokie fan and rarely misses an opportunity to watch a collegiate sporting event.