February 2, 2021

Are Rural Churches Done For?

I began writing every sermon as if it was the last sermon I would ever write.

Jared Thurmon

Let me be quick to answer: I don’t think so.

Not long before a pandemic swept the world, I had started pastoring my local church. It’s your typical rural North American church. Fewer than 100 members; quaint; horses visible across the street during the service. But here’s what has happened in my little church during the past year.

As COVID-19 crept in, we realized we weren’t going to be meeting for church as before. So we decided to do all we could to take our messages online, but in a new, creative way. I pivoted with the way I prepared my messages and began writing every sermon as if it were the last sermon I would ever write.

During the past eight months we have seen more than 1 million individuals view and/or listen to our content, almost 500,000 of whom engaged with us in some way—liking, sharing, commenting, e-mailing, or joining a virtual Bible study. We continue to retarget these individuals on a monthly basis with ads, hoping to continue to build relationships with them.

We hired two Bible workers as it all got going, and we have a team of volunteers who spend 10 to 20 hours per week engaging with incoming questions and Bible study interests.

I began writing every sermon as if it was the last sermon I would ever write.

As soon as we started meeting again in person, I began to share some of the testimonies coming in. They have been a real encouragement to our local congregation. This has been an amazing experiment in how to bring about revival to a little church, and I’ve been thrilled to have played a small part. We are generating nearly 100 new Bible studies each week, with a rate of about 5 percent that progress into one-on-one Bible studies with one of our Bible workers.

I’m proud to say that we aren’t doing anything really novel, except that each message given by me or a guest speaker is created with the intent of reaching someone who may be hearing Adventist teaching for the first time. Our efforts have resulted in much higher sharing among our church members to their friends and families.

I share all this because we believe this is a strong seed-sowing moment. I hope all churches, large and small, can take courage from our experiment. God has blessed our local church with a 50 percent year-to-date increase in tithe (more than $100,000 so far). The last time I checked, we had the highest per member tithe ratio in the conference, and our local giving was up 60 percent as well. This is a direct result of the individuals we are reaching.

Our attendance pre-COVID-19 was about 75 each week. Now it’s 120 and growing. The average age of our congregation pre-COVID-19 was 58. With young families now attending, and students driving to join us, I would say that our demographic is around 40, and getting younger all the time.

I hope this testimony encourages other small churches to be willing to try new things.

Jared Thurmon is liaison for strategic partnerships at Adventist Review Ministries.