Oct 11, 2010

Transforming Church in Rural America (Book Review)

I recently received a copy of this book by Shannon O'Dell for review.  Since I am a new pastor in a rural community, I was very interested to see what the author had to say.  I had heard of O'Dell and his Brand New Church a couple of years ago from a link at WiredChurches.com.  O'Dell is doing a phenomenal work transitioning a small, dying church in rural Arkansas into a relevant model that can bring hope to any and all pastors of small, rural churches. 

O'Dell's book is an attempt to write the "Purpose-Driven Church" for small town church leadership.  It is mostly autobiographical in nature.  The author shares a lot of stories about his struggles and successes in transitioning a difficult church.  His story is a familiar refrain - a pastor looking for a change gets a call from the one place he really doesn't want to go but can't escape the fact that it is the one place where God wants him to go.  When he gets there, he realizes his fears have come true - he has inherited a dysfunctional church with dysfunctional systems that have made them irrelevant.  However, O'Dell was surrounded by a group of people that realized their dysfunction and really wanted to make a change.  The journey was not without hardship or opposition.  However, Brand New Church has become a multi-site church in an area that no one would have predicted this level of ministry success and a model to follow.

O'Dell's book is very practical.  It provides a lot of great ideas and inspiration.  It is certainly a departure from many of the church growth/church health books that focus on suburban churches in the thousands.  O'Dell's writing style is easy to read.  The book relies heavily on stories and the author's humor.  I would have liked to see more thought put into more biblical and theological foundations.  Little attention is paid to making changes in a dying church without compromising Scripture or theological foundations.  I am not suggesting that O'Dell has done this at his church.  However, it is easy for the reader to get caught up in ministry paradigms and practices without giving careful attention to the fact that most dying churches has very poor biblical and theological foundational systems.  The book also gets very repetitive at times.  After the first 3-4 chapters, I found myself not as engaged as I did at first.  However, the inspiration alone of how this leader showed a dying, rural church how to be a missional, evangelistic force is work