In Transforming Church in Rural America, Shannon O’Dell describes his journey from being the pastor of a vibrant, growing metropolitan church to pastoring in a city in Arkansas with a population of 88. He details the struggles of growing a small, traditional church that says it wants change, but resists it. O’Dell relates personal anecdotes and gives advice to those who wish to see growth in their local church.
When I first received this book, I was a little skeptical, because I’ve seen this type of book before: some guy was successful, and now he thinks his method will work in your church. I was pleasantly surprised, though, by several things in the book: 1) O’Dell is not as concerned with growing a big congregation as with growing his individual congregants (a line he uses several times in the book.) 2) While he admits to being an “emergent-type” guy, O’Dell portrays sound theology throughout the book. 3) O’Dell gives advice to those seeking change, but it’s not specific (style of worship, type of dress, etc.); his advice is more general and principle-based (i.e. excellence in worship, leaders casting strong vision, etc.). The only red flag I saw is that O’Dell has been there less than a decade. On one side, that is amazing, because he has seen tremendous growth in just a few years; however, the book would have greater strength with time-tested evidence to prove that the principles in this book work for more than just temporary growth.
Like most books, there are some ideas with which you will not agree, some statements that will cause you to stop and think, and some really helpful ideas, too. All in all, this is definitely a book I would recommend.