Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations

by David Poling-Goldenne, L. Shannon Jung. Augsburg Fortress Press, 2001.

Is there hope for congregations in rural settings? Yes, claim David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung. They offer the stories and practices of twenty-six effective rural congregations as proof.

Using nomination and statistical review to identify exemplary rural ELCA congregations, the authors employed a three-step process to identify the best practices of vital, growing rural congregations. Exemplary congregations—those that are "thriving and showing some growth in worship attendance and discipleship ministries"—employ six practices of effective ministry: (1) prayer (letting go and letting God); (2) worship (building community and hope); (3) making disciples (learning to live Jesus’ way); (4) evangelism (a way of life); (5) caring ministries (serving as Jesus served); and (6) leadership (who’s driving the tractor?). Poling-Goldenne and Jung describe each practice through story and example. They then summarize strategies and offer scriptural reflection to apply to the reader's home congregations.

By giving examples from a wide range of congregations, the authors invite reflection and celebration of present strengths and ministry. Each chapter ends with a challenge to identify two activities that might be implemented over the next six months to a year.

This book does not offer quick fixes or unrealistic promises. Instead, it offers a hopeful and incremental approach to revitalizing a congregation. Along with its companion video, it can be used by groups or leaders who want to grow a congregation but need practical ideas and encouragement.