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Transforming Church in Rural America Paperback – February 15, 2010

4 out of 5 stars 159 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

O'Dell, a pastor, explains how he led a small rural Arkansas church from a handful of members to a multi-site church of thousands. A unique feature of the book is inclusion of photos and perky illustrations and rich graphics to move readers through important points. O'Dell's is a fresh, no-holds-barred voice in Christian nonfiction, and he makes the case for a strong connection between marriage and ministry: "Now this book is primarily about growing the rural church, and I feel that having a red-hot marriage and a functional family is an extremely important element of that." He advocates V.A.L.U.E.: vision, attitude, leadership, understanding, enduring excellence. For all the crisp selling and innovation in the book itself, it doesn't break all the rules. Instead, it uses some of the tired phrases found in many books on church growth; and, for all the good pictures and talk of transformation of lives, the majority of the photos are of buildings and illustrations for the pastor's sermons.
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About the Author

Shannon O'Dell passionately seeks to inspire his growing multicampus church to give God only the very best. Innovative, inspiring, and committed to reaching out to struggling churches in rural areas around the country and the world, he has served as senior pastor for Brand New Church in the small community of Bergman, AR for over six years. He is a former youth pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, OK. He is married to wife Cindy, and the couple have four children.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press (February 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892216948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892216949
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (159 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,790 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Shannon O'Dell reluctantly left a large multi-pastor church to lead a small rural church in a town with a population of less than 100. He now has a passion for rural ministry, which led him to write this book. He raises some good points, like that a pastor who leaves as a missionary to Africa gets prayer and financial support and a commissioning service as he leaves while a pastor who leaves a big church to go minister in the sticks gets questioned about the financial wisdom of it and gets laughed at. Throughout the book, he provides personal anecdotes, Bible verses, and best practices as he offers guidance to rural pastors (though he gets a bit list- and acronym-happy in places).

As for me, I love rural churches. As much as I love my decidedly not rural church now, it's a comfortable fit whenever I return to the little Baptist church where our wedding was held and where I was baptized. That's why I was interested in reading this. I found myself nodding in affirmation at points and furrowing my brow in others.

I think this could be worth reading for nothing but his family-focused advice to those in ministry. He stresses the importance of marriage and of a family vision. The best line of the book was "...a red-hot marriage and a functional family is the most powerful evangelistic tool in rural America" (or anywhere, I would add). Other spots were solid too, and I plan to send this book to the pastor who married us as an encouragement to him.

I found three bothersome spots, though:

1. One section frustrated me so much that I had to put down the book and walk away for a bit. It was only page 24, and it may have affected my view of him through the rest of the book.
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Format: Paperback
I just finished "Transforming Church in Rural America" and I feel like I've had a shot in the arm. This book was just what the Dr ordered for my life and ministry at this time.

I serve in a church under a pastor that is all about breaking all the stereotypes and "rules" that man has put on the rural church, so the breaking away from the "rurals," as Shannon calls it, has already been done here. In my situation, this re-affirms to me how to support his leadership and keep the rest of our volunteer lay-ministry staff on track.

Shannon doesn't merely teach you in this book how grow a big church in a small community. He doesn't give you step by step, "here's how you do exactly what we are doing." Those kind of books are on my bookshelf - unread. I've grown tired of those. Instead, Shannon shares how to hear from God, how to stick to His vision, how to pursue the vision, and how to maintain it.

This book will show you, not only through experience, but from scriptural examples as well, how to tranform a church in a rural community to leave the stale "we've done it this way before" model and move forward with a model of vision that sees that God has a plan for every community, every church, and ever person.

This book is not for the pastor who is too afraid to hear from God and move forward. This book is not for the lay ministers who are building their resumes serving under pastors like that. It is for visionaries and those who support a visionary.
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Format: Paperback
Misconceptions about rural churches and pastoral ministry abound. Young pastors rarely seek out ministry opportunities in the country unless they are looking for a stepping stone to something bigger and better.

Shannon O'Dell breaks this mold and writes about it in Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking All the Rurals. Though doubtful at first, he left the staff of a large, established suburban church following the call of God to a small congregation in South Lead Hill Arkansas, population 88 (the city, not the church!).

Through the early chapters, O'Dell recounts, often humorously, the early challenges of ministering in a country church. Easily recognizable to any rural pastor, these people and experiences helped to fashion and establish his leadership and pastoral direction.

The central portion of the book is dedicated to the core V.A.L.U.E. that developed in Pastor O'Dell's philosophy of ministry. Vision - Attitude - Leadership - Understanding - Enduring Excellence. He closes the book with a challenge to other rural congregations to see beyond the limits that have been self-imposed over the years - to change their concept of success and the boundaries of it.

My first impression of this book was less than enthusiastic. As I began reading the story of his church's transformation, my cynicism began to grow. My thought was, "Great. Another book on how `bigger is better,' and how if you do it like we do it, you'll be a `success' as a church." As a rural pastor, I've heard enough such typical church growth tripe from conferences, lectures, books, etc. This mentality does not suit well with my personal philosophy of ministry.

Before I finished, my perception had changed completely.
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Format: Paperback
This book is nothing more than a guide of how to destory a community and a rural congregation. It is my-way-or-the-highway. I understand that pastor-lead churches are becoming more and more the norm, but this is setting a community up to fail if the congregation doesn't go with what the pastor says. What about the elders? What about the older generations? Are they not as important as the younger?
I was a member of his 'rural' church he tried to transform. Please believe me, that he did not TRANSFORM any church. He destroyed a rural Southern Baptist church, changed its name, and moved it to a community that was closer to a much larger town full of doctors and business owners. Half of his preachings were money, money, money, money to fund his new toys and new building. I read this book to try to understand his point of view, why he did what he did. And now I do.
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