O’Dell believes “that rural America is one of the most over-churched, unreached people groups in the world.” (17) There are enough churches. There is one on most corners in small towns. The problem is that most of them are small (over sixty percent of Protestant churches average fewer than sixty people a Sunday) and have unique challenges they must deal with in order to survive.
O’Dell had been a youth pastor in a large Oklahoma City church when he sensed God’s call to lead a church. He went to Southside Baptist in 2003. The church, after fifty years of ministry, had 31 attending and a budget under $45,000. Today they have 2,000 people attending, an iCampus and a global outreach. He shares his journey, hoping that other rural churches will take the same country road.
He realized he needed to grow individuals, not the size of the congregation. He began to love people. He implemented a new leadership structure (after lively but civil discussion). He had the pews removed and strife ensued (the tip of an iceberg). Families left and his ministry hit a low point.
But O’Dell had a vision. He believed that God would provide what was needed. He followed the biblical model and raised up leaders from his congregation, most as volunteers at the beginning.
O’Dell was not without his serious trouble. He had to let staff go with the economic downturn. He had a staff member and friend spread rumors about him, trying to ruin his ministry. O’Dell freely advises that it takes vision and endurance to get through the pattern of change, conflict and growth.
Helpful resources are provided in websites and video links. The question is whether what worked for O’Dell will work for other rural pastors. This book will certainly be an encouragement to small town pastors if they have the vision and endurance required.
New Leaf Press, #9780892216949, 200 pages.
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.