How do you help a small rural church not just survive, but thrive? You help them see where God has been at work in the past, the rich areas ripe for ministry around them, and how to serve as a team using their gifts and graces. Then, you give them resources and look out, new paths of ministry will abound!
That’s what happens in Project Bountiful, a three-year partnership with the North Carolina Conference, The Duke Endowment and The Academy for Leadership Excellence. Teams made up of clergy and laity are reminded of their rich heritage, become aware of the unique gifts they have, learn how to work as a team, and are challenged to discover and move into the ministry God has in mind for their community.
When the Rev. Judy Stephens talks about church, she frames the conversation around people “going out” rather than “coming in.” Stephens is the Project’s coordinator. Instead of thinking of church primarily as a destination, she wants to help people think of it as “a launching place for sending forth.”
“For a lot of us growing up, church has been a place to go to,” she says. “But we’re trying to promote the idea of coming to church to be spiritually renewed for the purpose of going out to be in partnership with others. That’s a major reorientation for many of us.”
Through retreats and coaching, Project Bountiful will include nearly 50 churches before it ends in 2017. So far, 28 church teams have come together on Friday – Saturday retreats every other month, where they have learned that others have the same challenges, discovered their own unique gifts, and have been resourced through speakers, books, learning activities and inspiring worship in a retreat setting. Back home, they work with extended teams, and have a coaching call on the alternate months.
The concept of the rural church runs deep in the history of The United Methodist Church, which includes the “circuit-riding” preacher who rode through villages and frontier, from church to church, on horseback. “There’s a great mission field there. That’s part of our heritage. It’s shifting the perception that ‘We’re small and we, therefore, cannot do anything,’” says Dr. Bill Gattis, the Academy’s executive director. “We are confident that rural churches and rural communities are bountiful – and they have been over our history.”
A recent participant put it this way: “Yes, we have a story to tell and it’s great to network and build relationships. These innovative ideas take discipleship to a new level. Project Bountiful means HOPE for the future of our church. It’s exciting to meet so many in similar situations and know our potential will be tapped. Project Bountiful is helping me, our community and our church grow.”
Recruitment for the third and final cohort group is going on now. Twenty church teams will be selected for Project Bountiful Year 3 set to begin this fall at Garris Chapel, (outside of LaGrange) with an initial registering interest/inquiry deadline of April 15. Targeted districts are Harbor, Heritage and Capital though any church willing to drive the distance will be considered. If you are interested in being a part of Project Bountiful, contact your district superintendent.
Read more about Project Bountiful on The Duke Endowment website.