Brand New Church Creates a Multisite Network Along the Back Roads of Rural America
Bergman, Ark., has two restaurants, one school, a population of 407—and a church of 350 people.
Shannon O’Dell is the senior pastor of Brand New Church, and in 2003 he felt sure God was calling him to a city like Atlanta or Seattle. So when he received a call from Southside Baptist Church in South Lead Hill, Ark., population 88, he didn’t take it seriously.
“We didn’t even pray about it,” O’Dell says. “They asked us to, but we said, ‘no.’”
After persistent contact from the church and a Thanksgiving nap where O’Dell says God “clearly spoke” saying, “What if I want to use you to pioneer and blaze a trail in rural America?” O’Dell accepted. Thirty-one people voted him in.
“We began doing what God has called the church to do—leading people to Jesus,” O’Dell says. Two years later the church had grown to 150 and was asked to take over a church in Bergman that was down to six. After renovations, 126 people showed up.
“We became multisite and didn’t even know it was cool,” O’Dell says. In 2006 both churches combined to form Brand New Church. Within 14 months they had launched two new campuses in Mountain Home and Goshen, Ark., where O’Dell drove for hours between services. They wanted to plant another church, but travel made it impossible so they looked for alternatives. DVDs weren’t received well, and DSL speeds were too slow.
After driving past a satellite news truck, O’Dell “did what any good pastor would do and got on eBay.” Soon after, he pulled up at the church in an orange Hummer he had driven back from California, full of satellite technology.
“That was the moment we were able to move faster,” O’Dell says. “For $380 we could install a receiver and dish. Today we broadcast live to one of our campuses in a barn.”
The church is now the hub of a rural church network spanning 13 facilities throughout Arkansas and Texas, with another campus in Russia and two “tech” campuses—the phone app and website. O’Dell has become so transformed by his unexpected calling that he’s written Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking All the Rurals (New Leaf, 2010).
He offers three practical tips for planting rural churches: pastors must be called, they must place a strong campus pastor at each site and technology should make the experience feel live and in-person.
But more important than practicalities, O’Dell says believing for what seems impossible is essential. “God measures the universe from the tip of his thumb to the end of his pinky, but when you tell people God wants to build a large thriving church in a small rural town, they treat him like he’s powerless,” O’Dell says.
BRAND NEW CHURCH Bergman, Ark.
Senior pastor: Shannon O’Dell
Affiliation: Southern Baptist