Date of Award
Doctor of Ministry (DMin)
Tim Dolan, DMin
Allen Wachter, DMin
The Church is always one generation away from extinction. There are larger trends that jeopardize the future of rural churches in my area. Evidence suggests there will not be enough Millennials to keep these rural churches viable. The rural churches built themselves on the “world-as-it-used-to-be.” But this world is fading with younger generations. Current approaches are unlikely to keep the ship afloat.
The “world-as-it-used-to-be” distorted the biblical narrative culminating in Christ. This story does not have weight with younger generations. If followers of Jesus in a rural context can embrace the correct biblical narrative, they can grow in their humanity and reflect Christ. The real issue is not “how can we keep the churches afloat” but “what kind of church can make disciples of Jesus in a rural context”. The rural churches in my area have an operating system that works against the production of disciples. These churches are in the last stage of their life cycle. Having a “good death” may be the best result for these churches. A new matrix built to make disciples is the optimal result.
This matrix will reject the urban church operating systems that focus on numbers and the rural operating systems that focus on preservation. Leonard Sweet proposes a new model that reflects the operating system of Jesus that he believes is missional, relational and incarnational (MRI).
The future rural church in my area needs this operating system built on the NT metaphor of Christ as the Icon of God. This metaphor connects us to the metaphor of the Church as “a river of living water”. These metaphors reflect an MRI operating system as part of new matrix that grows disciples.
Growth in Christ demands a Kingdom of God mindset. This happens through an emotional connection to a leader (s) who creates a learning community in an intimate context and practices certain kinds of spiritual disciplines. This new church will build on the strengths of their rural culture and be experiential, participatory, image-rich and connective (EPIC).
Hider, Lon, "A Story, Metaphor, and a Matrix for the Truly Rural Church That Grows Christ Followers in an Uncertain Future" (2019). Doctor of Ministry. 314.