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Transforming Church in Rural America Paperback – February 15, 2010

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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 (158 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #338,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I love Jesus Christ, my HOT wife, 4 beautiful kids, sharing God's Word with passion and hunting. I believe every church submitted to God's Power can and will grow! Find out more about me at or

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By dinglefest VINE VOICE on July 28, 2010
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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By TJ Scott on May 8, 2010
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on October 11, 2010
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Dobbs on May 19, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Although we all admire the preachers for the large and exciting churches around the world, most of us will never wear their shoes. Most preachers will find themselves in a church with less than 100 in attendance, wearing many hats, struggling to help the church grow, and wondering if this is the dream to which God has really called us. Many of those churches will be located in rural areas of the country in towns and communities that are relatively small. Is there such a thing as building a growing, dynamic, and vibrant church with so many challenges? Apparently, there is. And Shannon O'Dell has not only lived it, he has written a book about it.

O'Dell, Pastor of Brand New Church (a relatively new name for a Southern Baptist church in the rural countryside near Harrison, Arkansas) chronicles his move from a mega church in Oklahoma City to the barely surviving Southside Baptist with 11 people in the choir and 26 people in the congregation. The only technology employed by the church was two microphones and a tape recorder. Things did not stay the same, though, as the passionate and driven O'Dell began to pursue a vision for a great church.

There are so many great stories in this book that illustrate life in a small rural church and the many `sacred cows' that exist. I love the dear sister who was unsure about having a coffee maker in the fellowship room with the word "Bunn" on it. There were also many long committee meetings about where to place a certain breaker box, a disagreement about a new volleyball court because it would have to be built over some dirt that had been donated in someone's memory, and a reluctance to build adequate bathrooms because they would block a few stained glass panels.
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