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Small churches the focus of ‘Rural Life Celebration’

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Rural America is in transition. Corporate farming, an influx of city dwellers seeking to escape urban areas and new technology are all affecting life in rural areas. Those changes also impact the country churches that at one time were the backbone of rural communities. This summer in Missouri, members of rural churches will have the opportunity to recognize the Christian heritage and values of rural life with a “Rural Life Celebration.”
The event, July 16-17 in the Mathewson Exhibition Center at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, will help rural churches adapt to the changing environment around them. Although it is sponsored by the Missouri Baptist Convention, it is open to pastors, staff members and laypeople from all denominations whose churches are in small towns or rural areas.
Don Almond, leader of Missouri Baptists’ small church unit, said the Rural Life Celebration is an example of encouraging rural churches from across Missouri to work together. “If we’re going to have an impact for the gospel in our rural culture, we have to find ways to cross denominational lines,” Almond said.
Missouri Baptists began planning for the event several years ago. Their statistics count more than 1,000 churches in rural areas of the state. “Unfortunately,” said Almond, “a large percentage of these churches have either leveled off or declined in their membership levels and in the effectiveness of their ministry.”
Other rural churches, meanwhile, “are contributing to their communities around them, but don’t get a lot of recognition.” he said.
Teresa Ayers, coordinator for the Rural Life Celebration, said the event will have exhibits pertaining to agriculture and rural life, children’s activities and other family entertainment. One of the highlights of the conference is a performance by Christian vocalist/humorist Mark Lowry at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Lowry, winner of a Dove Award and a Grammy Award, is a member of the Gaither Vocal Band.
The Friday evening session will feature a music/worship time and a recognition of rural Baptist churches that are 150 years or older. Jim Hill, executive director of the Missouri Baptist Convention, will speak that evening.
Saturday’s schedule includes conferences led by model rural churches on such topics as community relations, congregational networking, worship, missions and ministry, congregational revitalization and strategy planning, and technology. “The conferences should point churches to the future with some real constructive handles on these issues,” Almond said.
Also on Saturday, Gary Farley, an authority in the area of small town and rural churches from Carrollton, Ala., will share strategies for effective ministry in rural areas. The Missouri Baptist disaster relief team will serve supper on Friday and lunch on Saturday from their mobile unit on a donation basis.
Almond said the Rural Life Celebration should give churches of all denominations “a sense of focus and vision for their future.”
“In my experience as a former pastor, churches have a new excitement if they get involved in projects that take them beyond the church walls,” he said. “My intent for this conference is that churches will identify with the needs presented and will leave saying, ‘We can do this.'”
Pre-registration information can be obtained from Rural Life Celebration, P.O. Box 1810, Sedalia, MO 65302, or 1-800-736-6227.