What started out as a relatively simple effort to improve our marketing message evolved into a multifaceted set of activities to redefine our purpose and improve our ability to serve others. The board's consensus was that we were not satisfied with being only a voice of advocacy at General Conference, or just a fellowship for rural ministers. Collectively, we want to do more to support church leaders who have followed the call to minister in rural communities, and improve the effectiveness of ministries in rural places.
Jesus taught through his parables that we should go out and seek the lost in the hard to find places in rural places. "Go out to the roads and country lanes," Jesus taught in the parable of the banquet (Luke 14:23). Search in the "open country" for the lost, Jesus described in the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4). These parables do more than refer to our common understanding of rural geography, but emphasize that we are to actively search even the out of the way places, the less populated places, the hard to reach places, and compel people to come into the Lord's house, "so that my house will be full" (Luke 14:23). We believe it is a calling and a privilege to be the Lord's disciples in the out of the way places, and a fulfillment of the Lord's commands.
So, we asked ourselves the hard questions: What is the purpose of the UMRA? How are we helping ministry leaders? What more can we be doing? How do we do more by utilizing today's technology? How do we expand our reach, and help others in ministry become more effective in their own ministries? Are we making a difference? And we started to change how we operate.
Committees got together to (1) strengthen our board of directors and volunteer participation, (2) plan new programs that can better equip rural ministry leaders, (3) expand our partnerships so that we can share more resources with the leaders we reach, (4) improve our marketing and communications so that we reach more leaders, and (5) improve our use of technology to help accomplish all these areas. The results of these efforts will be shared with you as more of our new programs come online, and as we proactively seek to expand our reach to help more and more ministry leaders. Your participation in the process is greatly appreciated.
What have we accomplished through this transformational process?
Our strategic planning process did help us clearly identify the salient reasons for supporting rural ministry leaders, and it's our goal to share this message with our urban ministry brethren, so that they understand the importance of supporting rural church ministries:
You would not ignore a community more than seven times larger than New York City. Yet the rural population in the United States, with over 60 million people, is often overlooked because they are not all living in the same area. Most churchgoers attend small churches. More than half of all churches are under 100 members. The communities these churches represent, and the pastors who have chosen to follow God's calling to minister in these churches have many shared needs. The United Methodist Rural Advocates understands the varied needs of rural communities and their churches, and seeks to provide advocacy, education and support for the fulfillment of Christ's ministry to all God's people in rural communities.
Whether your church is urban or rural, large or small, the UMRA invites you to join our association of clergy and laity in reaching out to meet the needs of people from rural communities, their churches and their pastors. We provide advocacy at General Conference and Annual Conferences to affect rule changes that enable churches to better minister in their communities, provide educational opportunities for the leaders of rural churches to better serve their church bodies, and support church leaders in personal growth and ministry.
This message we are sharing with our UMRA members, newly established UMRA partners, UMC district and jurisdictional meetings, and annual conferences. We want to expand our marketing reach so that we can help rural ministry leaders everywhere.
- Revised Newsletter: Our new newsletter is now electronic, and will provide News & Notes, Ministry Tips, Opinion Articles, Resources from our Partnership Organizations, and provide an opportunity for all of our members to share their thoughts and ministry ideas with one another over various ministry topics.
- Conference Calls: This program has not been rolled out yet, but the UMRA is planning on launching conference calls around topics of discussion that are pertinent to all our rural ministry leaders. Be sure to check this newsletter for conference call sign-ups.
- Webinars on Educational Topics: Many ministers benefit from continuing education programs, but when you're far removed from conference sites, and costs are prohibitive, it would be helpful to attend online training. UMRA will launch new Webinars that will allow ministry leaders to participate in educational classes right from their own computers.
- Podcasts and Webcasts: Very often, a ministry program in rural Ohio may work for a church in rural Mississippi. How do you minister to seniors in a rural community? How do you engage youth in a small youth group? How do you effectively minister to the rural poor? A library of online podcasts and webcasts is being developed to share the successes of some rural ministry programs so that they can be replicated across the country.
We have identified almost 50 different ministries, networks, and associations to partner with the UMRA. Why? We hope to make all available training accessible to all rural ministry leaders. We hope to be the information center to connect you with training, conferences, networking events, and resources from all our partners. By connecting you with all of our partners, we improve your available resources.
Your Thoughts, Please:
Everything we are doing at UMRA is to help rural ministry leaders become better equipped and more engaged in ministering to rural communities. If you have thoughts and ideas about what we can do, collectively, to better serve our ministry partners, please let us know.