Transforming Church in Rural America

Shannon O’Dell wants to change the way rural congregations do church. When he arrived in Arkansas, he had a congregation of 31 people. Now, the church has over 2000 people on multiple campuses. Most rural churches are tradition oriented and not change oriented. Drawing from his own experience at what was renamed Brand New Church (BNC), O’Dell challenges churches to be ministry minded and focused on reaching people—even some people who make conservative believers uncomfortable.

I received a copy of “Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking All the Rurals” from the publisher through O’Dell offers some common sense ideas with practical examples that contrast with how most churches operate. He isn’t afraid to break the rules, or “break the rurals” as he refers to it. Using the acrostic V.A.L.U.E., he helps the reader see the value of vision, attitude, leadership, understanding, and excellence. He also gives practical steps to transformation for those going through a change.

The author offers a lot of free helps for the reader to save some of the steps that his church went through. For example, they saved their research from the bylaws of various churches and has those available for download for churches researching constitutions to write their own. Throughout the book there are also links to video clips available on his website. I had technical problems at first but after a Java update, I did get most of the videos to play. Refreshing the page whenever I received an error message seemed to work too.

Shannon O’Dell has thought this out well and has given many good examples from his own church. There are a few things that caught me off guard a little, despite my progressive attitude towards change. First, some people will be taken back by his casual use of words like “dang” and “sucks”. He’s of a new generation and some will not like this. O’Dell is confident, but in a few places he comes across as a bit arrogant. This too might hinder some from seeing the good ideas that fill this book. He doesn’t address how to honor the people who are hanging on to tradition while still moving forward. He implies that letting them get mad and leave is a simple solution to growing. I’d like to see him address how to make it work without making them walk.

Finally, I wasn’t on board with his pastoral driven style of leadership. I think there is a compromise between congregational leadership and top down leadership. Although O’Dell does talk about replacing committees with teams, he still places almost total authority in the hands of the pastor. Even when it comes to building projects, he suggests that the pastor should be in charge. This can rob people of using their gifts, especially if there is a contractor or expert in the church who knows much more about building or finances. He says his system won’t work with a pastor who is a control freak, but it seems that this style of leadership would be the very thing that produces control freaks.

All in all, this is a book to stimulate ideas. Churches will find changes that they can attempt in their own congregations as well as some things that they will disagree with. No church is perfect. O’Dell has had his share of staff troubles and ministry problems too. But the idea that rural church needs to be shaken up is relevant and timely. This book is a launching place. A lot more had to happen behind the scenes for Brand New Church to get where it is today.

In Chapter 7, there are is a problem with paragraph spacing that the publisher must have missed. This isn’t the author’s problem, but it’s something I’ll mention to the publisher.

I had the opportunity to review this book compliments of the publisher through the review program. My reviews are objective and honest.

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