Rural ministry out of a small, rural church is all about contextualization. What is good for an inner city may not be good for the country. Here is one way that we recently identified and responded to some local needs around our community. We are a small, rural, lower-middle class church of about 125 people.
Identifying and Meeting Local Needs
Living Faith Baptist Church recently established a Compassion Ministry Center in rural Fombell, PA. It is a place to provide practical care to the community in a few specific areas, including affordable car repair, youth mentoring, disaster relief, mental health training, emergency shelter, and construction. This center, and the people serving through it, provide particular care to people during times of personal trauma or crisis.
You may traditionally think of a compassion ministry center as a place to hand out food or provide other social services, but those are not the immediate needs of this particular local community. Living Faith is surrounded by farms, factories, fixed-incomes...and a flood plane. Compassion ministry in such a place is about meeting situational needs as they regularly arise, but not necessarily daily needs like a homeless shelter or food pantry would.
Bringing Light in Moments of Crisis
If Jesus is the light of the world, and we believe that He is, then Jesus-followers should be about being a place of light and hope wherever there is darkness. Our particular focus of light-bringing is during times of personal crisis, like when a car breaks, or when the valley floods, or when emergency funds or shelter are needed because of some personal trauma.
There are a few ongoing services and a few as-needed services that are offered through the Care Center.
Repairing Cars, Mentoring Youth
The car ministry has three purposes: mentor youth in automotive trade skills, provide affordable cars or car-repair to low-income neighbors, and create community among volunteer mechanics.
As a mentoring ministry, youth are invited to work alongside skilled mechanics to learn how to do all-types of repair work. As a charity, the ministry provides free or affordable car repair to people with demonstrated financial needs. As a community-builder, folks who are involved in this ministry invite like-minded individuals from across the region to volunteer whenever the garages are open and also offer community-wide education and service events.
Caring for Mental Health
Another area of ongoing focus is mental-health. There are several good counseling services around our region, most of which have full-schedules of clients. The Living Faith Care Center is about trying to raise the capacity of the whole community to address mental and relational-health issues by providing training seminars. We offer live and online training classes every other week that offer a faith-based perspective on how to help other people with mental and relational health crisis.
The target-audience for these seminars is anyone who wants to be a better helper: parents, community group leaders, church leaders, etc.. Every church in the community has care givers, whether they are called Deacons or Small Group Leaders or Youth Workers. These seminars are there to help the helpers help. There is a streaming room in the Care Center that is designed for recording and live streaming these training events. It is properly lit and outfitted to provide a good experience to the online community and to anyone who attends training in person.
Caring for the Wider Community
Periodically, there are times of personal or community crisis where Living Faith can assist. The Care Center is a regional triage point for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief. When there is flooding nearby, our disaster relief teams are ready with shower and laundry trailers, emergency rations, and emergency housing for a few people. There are chainsaw teams and mud-out teams that can be quickly deployed immediately following floods. Related to that, we are a triage point for emergency construction and repair services, housing tools, supplies, and volunteers to help rebuild after a crisis.
From a facilities standpoint, Living Faith has multiple large gathering spaces that are available to the community for large and small group meetings for up to 150 people. The Care Center is primarily staffed by volunteers who want to serve, supplemented by some part-time professionals who tend to the facility and provide specific services. They are men and women who like to build and fix things, people who like to cook or care in times of crises, parents who want to see a healthy place for their kids to learn to serve others, and retirees who want to invest in the next generation.
So, cars, construction, crisis assistance, counseling training, and kids--that is the Living Faith Care Center in a nutshell. It is a ministry suited to the needs of our specific, rural context.
Mark Sentell, a member of the Project on Rural Ministry's Rust Belt Cohort, is an intentionally bi-vocational pastor from Zelienople, PA. By day, he works at a factory and by night he shepherds Living Faith Baptist Church alongside his wife, Lise. He has been a pastor for over 25 years and has two grown daughters, a dog, cats, horses, and chickens.