(Rev. Mike von Keyserling) - The New Ministry Strategies team gathered clergy and laity of the Alabama-West Florida Conference to attend the Rural Church Rising Conference in Fruitland, FL, at the Warren Willis Camp and Conference Center. This event was organized and led by the Fresh Expressions Florida team to Equip – Empower – Energize
the rural church. The group heard from speakers from all around the United States tell their stories of success and failures, as we all try to find ways to help support and grow the Kingdom of God in the rural environment. This was an inaugural event that will hopefully continue in the months and years to come as we strive to love others through the power, majesty, and grace of our Lord God Almighty.
Rural churches face many common problems, from economic decline and poor infrastructure to a sense of hopelessness and isolation. Even with these challenges, solutions can be found when you take the time to see the true assets in the community; assets like family ties, the personal historic knowledge of their community, strength in their shared struggle, the multi-generational households, and many more aspects that make rural communities so amazing and inspirational.
However, there is not a one answer solution because rural America covers such a large and diverse mix of cultures, geography, and history. The solution starts with church leaders and clergy taking the time to really see each small town and community as the special and unique entity that they are, knowing their stories, knowing why that tree or this store is so important to the community, and understanding the rivalry between towns and the unity in those same towns.
I learned new techniques for listening to the community through the individual stories of the people and discovered new ways to create these listening opportunities through the resources found at www.thelisteningchurch.com/plan
Here are comments from other clergy and laity who attended the Rural Church Rising Conference:
“The retreat was highly informative and engaging, and also non-anxious. We were given lots of time to process our experiences and to exchange ideas with others.”
“I learned that there are multiple ways to be the church that don't have to be in the church building, and not to be afraid to try something new - experiment!”
“It was nice to connect with other rural pastors and church leaders from around the country. I really enjoyed learning how others are creating places for community and fellowship in their rural areas beyond normal Sunday sanctuary services. I look forward to helping Seale UMC expand our current fresh expressions with greater vision and intentionality.”
“I was encouraged to hear stories of what God is doing. I received an assurance that the Holy Spirit is with us in our faith journey. I have also learned new ideas of how to motivate teams as we reach out to our community.”
“I loved the passion and energy of this group 'go' and take the gospel into the world where it is needed. I learned how to subordinate some of my more personal positions to our responsibility to 'be all things to all people so we might save some.'"