Book Review – “Transforming Church in Rural America” by Shannon O’Dell

“I personally believe that rural America is one of the most over-churched, unreached people groups in the world.”

I don’t think that the truth could be stated any clearer than that! For what Shannon O’Dell focuses on in his book Transforming Church in Rural America is the obvious and unfortunate fact that many of the churches in rural America are so consumed with their “we’ve always done it this way” traditions leading them to the point of stagnation; and in turn causing them to be ineffective communicators of the Gospel. 

My wife and I have served rural churches in three states, including our current ministry, and the insight presented by this book is something that I wish I would have access too nearly ten years ago. As I read through the book I found myself transported back in time, reading about situations that I had experienced myself, reminding me of the fact that “growth issues” plague every church, and though locations may be different, the issues remain the same. 

As I read through the book there was a phrase that just kept coming back to my mind, a concept that I’ve been dealing with for the past few years with the “rural” congregation that I minister with… “Transformational leadership” Previous experience has taught me that in order to effect change in any church, especially the rural church a pastor must have a fully engaged leadership and supportive. If a churches leadership isn’t engaged change will not occur, regardless of how clear and well articulated the vision is or how much the pastor or individuals in the congregation desire for it to happen.

At the core of this book are five important goals that he feels every church should have, and they are presented to the reader as the acronym V.A.L.U.E. which stands for





Enduring Excellence

This is most defiantly a book that I will have to read again, not so much because I found it to be overly powerful or life altering, but that I found it to be fundamentally sound, which is becoming more of a rarity in our current “emerging/emergent” style church growth obsessed society. I love how he addressed the often purposely ignored topic of “sacred cows.” O’Dell’s claim that change always produces conflict is 100% accurate. Every church has its sacred cows, but some congregations venerate them more than others, and most if not all of them are hindrances to effective growth and outreach.    

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, evidenced by the fact that I read it in two days. That being said there was one point that came out to me while I was reading that gave me some cause for concern with O’Dell’s presentation. He presents us with a picture of his own successes and failures, giving the reader insight for what worked in his specific situation. While never claiming to have all the answers, nor that his book was designed to be a “guidebook” I got the feeling that towards the end he crossed the line from “this is what God can do; and did in our situation” – to “this is a recipe to follow to make this happen in your field of service.” I’m sure that this conclusion wasn’t intended by the author, but it was one that I was unfortunately left with. 

Any church that has a desire to grow, a desire to be effective communicators of the Gospel would benefit from the principals outlined in this book. Many of the concepts presented aren’t   just adaptable to a ministry setting, but in our personal lives as well. I very much appreciated the fact that there on-line extras for the reader to access through the book. I was also very much appreciative of the fact that Shannon gave a scripture base for each principal presented.

The book is written in a very conversational tone that makes it both easy to read and to understand and I can say without reservation that I would recommend this book not only for church leadership, but also ministry team members.

NOTE: If you’re from the M4C church family, you are free to borrow this book from me. Just let me know and I’ll get it to you.

Disclosure of Material Connection:

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their “boosneeze program.” I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions and views expressed here are my own.

I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


About Jim

I'm currently the Communications Director for Missouri Operation for Vigorous Evangelism [MOVE] A Church planting ministry located in Jefferson City, MO. I believe that the church is the primary means through which God works in a community to love and redeem it. Here at MOVE we’re discovering new ways to be used for this purpose as God leads us and lights His path for us. As God forms this organization and shapes it for a new kind of world I want to be right in the middle of what He’s doing, traveling on this road of a disciple’s journey.

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