Rural Impact Leadership Conference 2023 focused on nurturing thriving rural churches through building up pastors and leaders

While the winter winds and loose snow blew across the greater Minnesota landscape, 115 rural/small-town pastors, leaders and ministry students gathered for the second annual Rural Impact Leadership Conference (RILC) on March 18, 2023, at Alexandria Covenant Church in Alexandria, MN.

In addition, 35 virtual attendees from Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, California, Washington, Saskatchewan and Alaska joined online.

“The entire day was great.”

The conference kicked off with a wonderful time of worship and an opening address by Dr. Glenn Daman entitled, “Finding Stability in a Changing World.” Taking from the first chapter of James, Daman built upon the foundational principle found in verses 17-18—that our stability in a changing world comes from the very nature of who God is.

God’s nature throughout time demonstrates that God’s character remains unchanging, God’s message does not change and God’s mission remains the same. Therefore, in a changing world—which he reminded everyone will only continue—the most important decision we make as the people of God is to affirm what we cannot change and build upon those things.

In many ways, Daman’s remarks set the stage for the remainder of the day. For embedded throughout the workshops, conversations, exhibiting resources and the closing session, the conference centered on the contextual application of the rural church in faithfully living out the mission and message of Jesus.

“Worship was amazing.”

Some specific areas regarding contextual application explored through the day’s workshops were: evangelism in a context where there are few strangers; equipping lay leaders for advancing the mission of the church; loving our neighbors who face mental health challenges, or who are culturally different from us; and how to effectively transfer faith to the next generations.

For those onsite, exhibitors offered an array of resources including: published materials on rural ministry; children, youth, and family ministry coaching, formation resources, and training opportunities; educational opportunities in the form of a “gap year’ discipleship program for students, along with a rural ministry certificate program; mental health supports and resources for local pastors and churches; and specialized ministries representing wilderness adventure experiences, global hunger partnerships, and pastoral transition services—all providing further ways to resource thriving churches.

“I appreciated the welcoming atmosphere.”

One other experience we must highlight is how on-site participants were recipients of the over-the-top hospitality ministry of our host church. This was stated best by one attender who said, “I was wowed by the dessert table at lunch today!”

The closing address was delivered by the Rev. Heidi Wiebe, in which she reminded everyone of the importance for the Church to pursue mission clarity within each season of ministry. She highlighted this for several reasons.

First, mission—our sense of shared purpose—creates hope and reminds us that God designed us to live for something bigger than ourselves. Second, with mission clarity comes a greater motivation and focus on our Kingdom call and impact. Third, mission engagement or participation also produces joy for those involved. This in turn fosters hope, a renewed excitement and a deeper commitment. It is a deep, sustaining kind of joy that we find enduring through all seasons.

And it is this same joy, embedded in the day’s experiences as well as rooted in a shared faith, that framed our closing worship, as well. At its conclusion, this was captured well by one who said, “This was a ‘good’ day!”

Here’s what a few other participants shared about their experience:

  • “I appreciated so much how applicable the content was to the rural context.”
  • “This was my first time, I thought it was great!”
  • “Today I learned about better ways to connect with my community.”
  • “The topics addressed throughout the day were so relevant.”
  • “I’m ready for more. How about two days?”

We praise God for how He blessed and used this day in the nurture of thriving rural churches. We look forward to the continued effect of the Rural Impact Leadership Conference even as we anticipate RILC 2024 on March 16!

The plenary sessions and workshops were recorded and are available for purchase here.

Note: all registered attenders will be given access to the recordings.