NC Rural Center partners with rural Methodist churches

New Initiative Supports Churches in Building Stronger, More Inclusive Rural Communities

RALEIGH — The NC Rural Center has received a five-year grant from The Duke Endowment to work with United Methodist churches in rural North Carolina to build more economically dynamic and socially inclusive communities.

The Faith in Rural Communities initiative will initially partner with 64 Methodist churches throughout the state to assess their congregational assets and opportunities for community engagement. A smaller subset of congregations will then receive in-depth coaching to develop local outreach projects that support community growth and nurture laity and pastoral leadership in rural communities.

A significant number of North Carolina’s 80 rural counties are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession, with many facing compounding issues of aging populations, out-migration of youth, and worsening health outcomes.

North Carolina now has 54 rural counties with more than 30 percent of their population either in poverty or just above poverty incomes. From July 2010 to July 2016, 48 rural counties lost population.

But rural communities are rich in assets and recent research suggests some young adults are likely to return to raise a family and be part of a tight-knit community. The key to attracting those individuals–and keeping those who have stayed–is engaged community institutions and visionary local leadership.

Rural faith communities are uniquely positioned to be those institutions and to provide that leadership.

“Rural churches are vital anchor institutions present in every rural community,” said Rural Center President Patrick Woodie. “An incredible opportunity exists to more deeply engage rural congregations in solving the challenges and seizing the opportunities present in their communities.”

The Rural Center has a long history of community engagement and leadership development throughout rural North Carolina. Rural Center staff will work with selected churches to develop new skills and perspectives rooted in an asset-based community development (ABCD) framework. Clergy and lay leaders will work to recognize and connect assets and opportunities for growth and engagement both within the congregation and out in the larger community.

“Rural North Carolina and rural United Methodist churches need leaders who are creative, compassionate, and have practical skills to create community change through stronger and effective community engagement,” said Rural Center Senior Fellow Jason Gray.

The Rural Center will work with the selected congregations to develop high-impact mission projects that benefit the economic health and social wellbeing of the local community, but also enhance congregational life within the churches and increase overall church vitality.