Show Notes

Most churches are “small churches,” but they don’t always get the attention, resources and support they need.

In this episode, Senior Director Chris Backert shares what he sees happening across North America and the exciting things that can only happen in smaller congregations.

Chris Backert serves as Senior Director of Fresh Expressions NA as well as Associate Executive Director of BGAV and Ascent movement in the area of growth and venture development. He also serves as National Director for Ecclesia, a US network of missional churches. Previously, he served as pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, a large university congregation in Blacksburg, Virginia and has been involved in the planting of three new congregations. Chris holds a D.Min. in Missional Church Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with wife Rachel, daughter Elliana and son Jase.

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Interview Summary

“Coming out of the pandemic, I just see smaller churches willing to be more creative,” says Chris Backert, Senior Director of Fresh Expressions and Executive Director of the Ascent Movement. His observation underscores a pivotal moment for small churches across North America—embracing innovation to reengage and serve their communities more effectively. This episode of the Rural Renewal Podcast provides a deep dive into how these churches are turning challenges into opportunities for growth and renewal.

Backert’s insights reveal how small churches are crucial to the fabric of their communities, especially in rural areas where they often serve as one of the few remaining communal institutions.

Creative Community Engagement

Chris discusses various innovative practices that small churches are adopting to serve their communities better.

We’ve got to change what we’re doing as a church because they’ve just gotten to the point of saying, well, what do we have to lose?

This mindset has led to the introduction of dinner churches and the use of church spaces for public gatherings, revitalizing their roles within the community.

Reimagining Church Functions

The necessity has mothered invention, with small churches rethinking how they conduct worship and community interaction. Chris notes the transition of some churches to different days and formats, such as moving traditional Sunday services to Friday night dinner gatherings, which have proved more engaging for community members.

We are going to risk for something bigger; we’re going to take a leap.

The Ascent Movement, led by Chris Backert, aims to knit a supportive network among small churches, enhancing their ability to fulfill their missions without the confines of traditional denominational structures.

Focus on the Great Commission

Chris emphasizes the movement’s dedication to the Great Commission, striving to expand and deepen Christian missions across North America. “We can’t lose the Great Commission,” he asserts, highlighting the importance of a united yet flexible approach to church missions.

We need another way of being connected, a movement that is specifically focused on the Great Commission.

Support for Rural Churches

Understanding the unique challenges rural churches face, the Ascent Movement concentrates on equipping these congregations with the resources and support needed to thrive. Chris points out the critical gap in attention and resources that rural churches often suffer from and how the Ascent Movement is poised to fill this void.

No one is paying attention to our small and rural communities and the life of the gospel among them.

Chris Backert’s initiatives through Fresh Expressions and the Ascent Movement offer a blueprint for revitalization that could redefine rural and small church roles in America. His vision of a collaborative, mission-focused network of churches challenges the status quo and invites a reimagining of what church community involvement can look like in the 21st century.

Reflection Questions

  1. How can your community better support small and rural churches?
  2. What creative methods can be used to engage with your local community?
  3. How does the mission of your church align with the needs of your community?
  4. What role does collaboration play in the success of your church?
  5. How can churches adapt to serve better in a post-pandemic world?
  6. How can your church leverage its unique assets to better serve its 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.