Adventist Review Online | Can the Seventh-day Adventist Churches in the countryside recover?
A pastor in the US Bible Belt shares his challenges and some tips to turn the tide.
R.ancient churches. Do you remember her You have been in palliative medicine for some time. Here are some practical ideas on how to deal with the consequences of a Covid-catalyzed urban escape and the possible âback to the futureâ experience in relation to the country churches. A much needed disclaimer? No far-fetched formulas or rocket science are offered. This is about reviving unity in service.
My previous experience as a church leader was in the city of SÃ£o Paulo, Brazil, in one of the largest urban centers in the world. Every Saturday (Sabbath) we had between 1,200 and 1,500 members attending the service. There were two or three different services, lots of music groups, choirs and even an orchestra that played live music every other Sabbath. The church service was alive and well, with various programs including personal development seminars and basic needs activities, all within the evangelistic harvest cycle.
Then, by God’s grace and providence, we moved to southwest Virginia, the United States, to serve the rural Appalachian communities in the âBible Beltâ within the Potomac Conference. Service in the âmotherlandâ of our church has been quite a journey. Corresponding eAdventistAlthough most of our communities are still in rural areas, most members of the North American Division can be found in urban centers following the migrations of the ongoing post-industrial revolution.
Back then I did the official âAdvent Heritage Tourâ with Jim Nix and my grandparents. Later I studied the history of our church in seminary with Alberto Timm and learned to appreciate how rural America was our God-planned birthplace. Gradually, however, our rural churches began to deteriorate, with different social and economic variables for each specific area. The picture I have is of a faithfully well-intentioned church growing old and dying. This is a painful and worrying picture for a pastor in this field.
But suddenly when COVID-19 hit we saw people coming out of nowhere, attending our Zoom, Facebook and YouTube meetings and really looking for a connection. Some asked for information about land and properties for sale in our area. The real estate market is still very active in rural areas, so something is actually changing.
And it just hit me: How will we be able to connect with the community if we can barely make it in our community? We just don’t have enough people who can do most of the necessary work. And here we began, out of practical necessity, to ask our neighboring churches for help – human help. Yes, we’ve had (and still do) partnerships with district churches and even other ministries many times, but now we have a renewed vision, a strategic opportunity.
Out of necessity, God has shown us the blessings of oneness. No real news here – that’s His pattern throughout history. In a timely manner, and with growing relationships and trust, the District Churches agreed to work on a regional strategy – sharing financial and human resources and realizing the immediate need to have a digital as well as an analog plan for this reconnection opportunity with and serve our local communities. Beginning with a district-wide âRevival and Reformationâ week in January 2021, we have partnered with the annual It Is Written (IIW) evangelism program called âActs 20:21â to create a robust and skilled online presence. We are also preparing for the transition back to personal relationship development.
In March, we had a face-to-face, district-wide training series on medical missionary work, followed by an online IIW health series and face-to-face research in the ward to see how we can address the specific needs of our local ward. We had our first district-wide diabetes health fair, attended by more than 40 volunteers from all churches and hundreds of literature were distributed. More than 100 people have registered for follow-up programs and Bible studies. Little by little the Church seemed to be alive and breathing again.
As a result of our district-wide efforts, member engagement has increased and we are now ready to commit to a district-wide harvest cycle plan for 2022. We have 52 interests that are receiving online Bible studies and are being constantly contacted by our outreach team, as well as five people participating in Diabetes Undone, a follow-up program to the health fair. We have also resumed our monthly healthy cooking classes, which typically number between 10 and 15 who are not Seventh-day Adventists.
We also have a school in our district that has been closed for almost 10 years, and following our district-wide efforts, we have reopened the school grounds as a Practical Living Community Center for children. You will learn a variety of life skills including courses in healthy spirituality, reading and writing, gardening, and cooking. We have already enrolled 10 children in the program.
As I said, no rocket science here, but a God-driven loop in the space-time continuum.
AmÃlcar Groeschel Jr. is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in New River, Pulaski, and Wytheville, and the Mountain View Company in southwest Virginia, USA.
the Original version this comment was posted by Ministerial Association of the North American Division.