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A Rural Church Planting Story…

Small Town USA

Small Town USA

Our partnership exists to help church planters and churches effectively plant new churches in small towns. When we think about “doing the stuff,” we think about participating in kingdom work in rural America. Two of our goals are to (1) strategically work together to effectively plant healthy churches in small town USA and (2) equip, empower, and resource church planters heading into rural communities.
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I did not think for a moment that the Lord would have us move out of the Chicago metro area.  We successfully planted a Vineyard in Elgin, IL and were content to stay there.  But as you would know it, the Lord had other plans for us and he had us move back to our hometown of Tomahawk, WI.

In our move we had no plans to plant another Vineyard Church, but as the scripture says many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it’s the Lords purposes that prevail.

The Lord spoke to us by three solid confirmations that we were to start a Vineyard church in our hometown.  Of course, I argued with Jesus about this and I brought to his remembrance His very own words that a prophet is not honored in his hometown.   I tried holding his feet to the fire with these words, but to no avail.

Here are a few things our family learned about planting in a small town.

1. Know that you know that you know that Jesus has called you to this. Without such conviction don’t do it.  The #1 killer of church plants is the uncertainty of calling.

2. You have to scout out the town. We recognized in Tomahawk that there was a lack of sufficient evangelical/kingdom practice in our town.   In fact, the value of our Vineyard theology inspired us to plant here.

3. If you’ve planted before, you need to ask yourself the question: If we had to do this all over again what would we do different?   Here is what we came up with: keep it simple, make it reproducible, and begin by doing three things really well.  Our three things were worship, preaching & children’s ministry, but there was a fourth during the week; we evangelized like crazy.    Our plan was to have 50% conversion growth.    We were also specific in the networks we would work out of.  Examples for me: I worked in my brother’s grocery business and 2/3 of the town went through it each week, I coached ice hockey and I made myself available to the community to do weddings, funerals and infant dedications.   Overall our plant was a family affair.  My kids’ network was their school mates.  In fact, our first convert was my daughter’s friend who happened to be in middle school at that time.  Right in my front room I coached my daughter to lead her friend to Jesus.

4. The Vineyards expression of Christianity is a very viable one for small towns in America.

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About the author
Ross Nelson was called to ministry in Jr. High but didn’t actualize the call until he was 23. Ross graduated with a Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO in 1982. He and his wife Mary served in two Lutheran parishes until 1990 when the Lord directed them to the Vineyard where they planted a church in Elgin, Ill. In 1995, following the Lord’s leading, the Nelson’s moved to Tomahawk where in 1997 they planted the Northwoods Vineyard Church.

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