From the General Superintendent George O. Wood with Wes Bartel

I had never heard of Groesbeck, Texas, until I went there earlier this year. There’s an Assemblies of God church there, though. Before I tell you about my visit, let me share with you some amazing facts.

Did you know there are 18,969 communities or towns in America with populations of fewer than 5,000 and that there are Assemblies of God churches in 4,100 of them? Those numbers tell us two things: (1) 4,100 of our 13,000 churches are in small communities, and (2) there is a great harvest of church planting waiting to take place in 14,869 more communities!

Take towns the next size up — 5,000 to 9,999 people. There are 1,644 Assemblies of God churches in those towns, but 828 more church planting opportunities.

If our goal is a healthy Spirit-filled church in every community, then we must not overlook the small towns and rural places in America!

The church in Groesbeck nearly died. It was down to just nine people. The building was ramshackle. No one had thoroughly cleaned it in years. Junk was piled up in rooms. And, in one place in the sanctuary, the wall had separated from the roof line; you could see the sky when you stood in the pulpit and looked through the gaping opening.

But, the building is not that way today. It’s beautiful! And, there are now about 150 people instead of nine. What made the difference?

Of course, a pastor with a call and a plan. John Carabin and his wife, Marissa, came three-and-a-half years ago to Groesbeck. What brought them there? The call of the Lord and a passion to see their town of about 4,500 reached for Jesus.

John felt a calling not just to the church, but also to the community. He felt that, historically, the two centers of the town were the courthouse and the church. He wanted to restore the church as that second center. So, he followed his call not to be pastor of just his church, but also pastor of the community. As a way into the community, he joined the local volunteer fire department. That not only opened doors of access into the community, but it also opened hearts of covolunteers to the gospel. People started getting saved and becoming part of the church.

If our goal is a healthy Spirit-filled church in every community, then we must not overlook the small towns and rural places in America!

What a privilege it was for my wife and me to be there on a Sunday recently and experience the vitality of that church and the Carabins’ passion for their community and the surrounding area.

Pastor John did not do this alone. A larger church stepped in and helped with pastoral compensation until the church could begin to get its feet on the ground. John also accessed training that was available to him (more about that in a moment).

What once was a nearly dead church came back to life. So, although they’ve fixed up the church facilities, now they really can’t use them anymore for worship services. Why? They’ve outgrown them! Guess what happened? Two trustees of another church in town that had closed sensed the Lord leading them to contact Pastor John and hand over the deed to that church property — valued at close to $1 million. Since March, that has been the church’s new home. And, it’s in Pastor John’s heart to plant three new churches in the next several years in three nearby small towns. Even churches in small towns can become multiplying churches!

Oh yes, I forgot to mention the name of the church. It’s Living Proof Church — so named because the members of that church are living proof that Jesus is still changing lives — even in small towns and rural America.

I want to give a shout-out to all the pastors who are serving in small towns and rural communities.

I want to give a shoutout of thanks also to larger churches, like the one that helped Pastor John, who seek intentionally to be on the watch for others they can help. I also want to share with you a new initiative of the national office to strengthen our rural churches. It’s called the Rural America Ministries Network, and Wes Bartel is the director. In the following paragraphs, I’ll let Wes describe this important new initiative.

Rural America Ministries Network

Wes Bartel

Without doubt, the ministry of the church unfolds in many varied contexts. Christ himself mandated this variety of ministry expressions in His Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

The Assemblies of God has become one of the most effective church entities worldwide in the fulfillment of that important command. Church history will affirm that we have been generous and strategic in our approach.

However, I fear we have unintentionally neglected a culture and people who historically have been a foundation and catalyst of our Movement. I am referring to America’s rural churches. Nearly 45 percent of our churches are in rural communities, and they find themselves reaching out to this unique culture, often without essential training, resources or encouragement to assist them.

To address this important need, the Executive Leadership Team has approved the formation of the Rural America Ministries Network. The Network was created through consultation with ministry leaders who share the same passion and concern for the rural church. Cooperative input and participation from numerous sources within our great Movement will ensure the effectiveness of this resource to churches in rural America.

Here is how Rural America Ministries will work.

  1. Structure: The Network will be the agency within the National Leadership and Resources Center specifically tasked to address the needs of the rural churches within our Movement. Its director will report to the general superintendent or another leader designated by the general superintendent. The director will serve as a primary consultant to the NLRC on matters concerning rural ministry. The director will also manage and promote the various programs and relationships of the Network, as well as serving as the point of contact between rural churches and leadership and the NLRC. Finally, the director will establish a comprehensive database for use by the NLRC from contacts with rural churches and leadership.

    The Network will create a District Advisory Board to give district councils both input and buy-in and to address specific district issues and concerns relative to rural ministry.

  2. Purpose: True to its name, the Network will provide rural ministers with networking opportunities, as well as training venues and other services pertinent to rural ministry within the Assemblies of God.
  3. Relationships: The Network will cooperate with and actively promote other AG ministries that impact the rural church. Let me identify four such ministries that already exist: (1) The Acts 2 Journey, established to strengthen existing churches (Acts2Journey.com); (2) Rural Compassion, which helps rural churches meet the material needs of the poor within their communities (RuralCompassion.org); (3) Church Multiplication Network, which exists to equip, fund and strategically network church plants (ChurchMultiplication.net); and (4) Lonesome Dove Ranch, which provides training and restoration to rural church pastors (LonesomeDoveTexas.com). As the Network grows, the list of ministry relationships it maintains will grow too.
  4. Programs: The Network will establish and host regional conferences or retreats for rural pastors and congregational leadership in cooperation with regional district leadership. The primary purpose of these conferences will be networking and fellowship, training, inspiration and family ministry. The network will solicit necessary funding for the conferences and provide funding assistance to needy rural pastors who desire to attend.
  5. Ministerial training: The Network will seek to establish an effective outreach within our AG colleges and universities for positively affecting and assisting in the development of quality ministerial training in rural ministry within our Movement. It will also seek to solicit contributions toward scholarships that can positively affect training in effective rural ministry.
  6. Funding: Network funding will come from individual and church contributions, foundation grants and General Council disbursements. A U.S. Missions account established for Rural America Ministries Network can receive contributions now (Account #385299-3). I am encouraged as I think about the amazing possibilities that await us as we move forward with this important initiative. I truly believe that God has many wonderful and positive things to accomplish within the rural churches and communities of America. I commend our general superintendent and the Executive Leadership Team for their vision and commitment to this need, and I covet the prayers of God’s people as we move forward in faith.

Celebrating the Lystras

George O. Wood

I want to thank Wes Bartel for providing vision and leadership for the Rural America Ministries Network. It is an important new initiative that needs your prayers, financial support and personal involvement.

Let me conclude by circling back to a biblical example. Remember the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey? One of the towns in which he established a church was Lystra. I’ve been to the remains of that town. It is small. Seeing it, you might think of Lystra as the critics of Jesus thought of smalltown Nazareth: Can anything good come from there?

Well, Paul found Timothy there. That was very good! And since that time, no one can count the number of gospel workers who have come out of churches in small towns. Those places have been fertile fields in producing a harvest of pastors, ministers and missionaries.

So, I celebrate all the “Lystras” in our Movement today — and the lives of children and youth that are being discipled and shaped by loving pastors and church leaders. These young people will powerfully impel forward the Kingdom of God in the generation to come, should Jesus delay His coming!