The Appalachian portion of Pennsylvania (“…with the exception of the Philadelphia area, the entire Keystone state is designated as Appalachia” .) is located within the northern subregion of Appalachia. As Appalachia is not a homogenous region, it is important to keep in mind that Whitworth is writing from the situational perspective of northern Appalachia. There may be strategical differences that one in southern Appalachia would seek to implement as opposed to northern Appalachia, for example, but there also may be many points of agreement. The reader is free to decide what is worthy of adopting and what is worthy of ignoring or rejecting within this piece. The point of this post is not to offer a clear cut, “this is how church planting needs to be done in rural Appalachia” field guide. The point of this post is to simply expose the reader to what could potentially be helpful information regarding church planting endeavors in rural Appalachia.
An Outline of Whitworth’s “Church Planting in Rural Appalachia”
Process of Time and Economics
o A new work takes an investment of time.
o Consider the economic environment of rural Appalachia. There are many small businesses barely surviving, high unemployment, and available jobs are mostly service-oriented.
o Budget consideration. Paying for a meeting place. “Many people in the rural areas of the Northeast identify a church with a building…Most people in these areas view a church as viable and permanent when it has its own building within the community…The church is seen primarily as a place and not as a people” (142-143).
o Through prayer and an examination of the community, discover where God is working.
o Solidify the church planters calling to the region. “At times, the call of the church planter is the only remaining anchor that keeps him and his family from ‘bailing out’ and ‘moving on’ to some other place that he feels will be more productive. When a church planter makes a premature exodus in a rural community, the residue of the work he leaves behind is incomplete, damaging to the faith, and sometimes irrevocable. Once a planter leaves, any core that he has built will quickly scatter, and the opportunity for reaching the community through another work becomes highly difficult and somewhat unlikely” (143).
o Contextual assessment of the church planter:
§ Cultural knowledge is not enough. The planter must be willing to persevere through long and tiring labor.
§ Humility. “If church planters come across as ‘know it alls’ or give the impression of being proud, then they are not the right fit for Appalachia. The people of Appalachia like to share who they are, what they believe, and their ideas, but only with someone who invests in them with a listening ear and humble spirit” (144).
§ Teachability. The planter should gain cultural knowledge and appreciation through relationships with the people.
§ The planter’s wife. Can she persevere through the difficulty? Is she relational?
Multiplying Church Center
o Connect the planter to an established church in the community. “Gaining a true connection with [the people of rural communities] takes a great deal of time, patience, and prayer. A high level of frustration can occur if a church planter is constantly trying to connect to the community without being connected himself to a network through a multiplying church center. This type of support system encourages and undergirds a planter’s efforts to build bridges and tear down walls while connecting to his field” (146).
§ Mentoring experience.
§ Gain of credibility and community trust.
§ Help of support team.
§ Opportunity to learn cultural values and theological views (whether biblical or erroneous) from those within the community.
Forming A Core Group
o Slow process but essential. “Forming a core group is a slow process, but it is well worth the work involved because it lays a foundation to grow a church in the small rural setting of Appalachia. This core, while it may require an abundance of work and time to form, will be loyal to the plant and can make or break the formation of a church” (146).
o Focus on forward progress while remaining methodologically flexible.
o Remain accountable to multiplying church center.
o Determining meeting place. Don’t underestimate the value of a building when considering meeting places within the community (See above under “Process of Time and Economics).
o Economic viability and the formation of regional partnerships.
o "The fact is that church planting in rural Appalachian areas is very difficult. The realities that a church planter must face can turn the challenges into insurmountable obstacles, especially if there is not a strategy in place. In our experience, the best strategy is to use multiplying church centers to train and build relational church planters who can cultivate, connect, and build a core group to begin a church. Placing church planters in these centers gives them an edge and a place of stability to begin a good work…Although it is a difficult task, the rewards of seeing a small rural town transformed because of the faithfulness to answer the call cannot be measured” (148).