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Rural Church Development: Growing Roots

In the last six months, Corey Pelton has been hard at work building connections in the rural areas of north Georgia, western North Carolina, and east Tennessee. His work will help develop churches, nourish pastors, and build community in areas that are often passed over when it comes to church planting efforts.

In the 1920s, a Presbyterian pastor in this area traveled around planting a handful of churches in a circuit rider style. Today, Corey’s work is the 21st century application of that style. He says, “When I was an RUF campus minister, Tim Keller was saying, ‘Go to the city.’ We’d focused on the suburbs, so then we went to the cities, but I wondered about the rural areas and small towns. Then, I heard about the circuit rider concept, and it haunted me as I reflected on it. I felt that if I didn’t try it, I would regret it.” After years of ministering in other contexts, Corey eventually spoke with the Mission to North America coordinator who connected him with the Tennessee Valley Presbytery. Corey submitted his proposed plan to coordinate church plants and mentor pastors in a unique way, and once it was approved, he began the work of support raising. In January 2022, he and his wife, Holly, officially began the work full time and settled into their new home in North Georgia.

While the Apostle Paul stayed in touch with the early churches through letters, messengers, and visits when possible, Corey is able to travel between towns easily. “The mountains define where the towns are,” he says, “and many of them are not that far apart. I do think the ministry of presence is very important, and I’ve been able to use my hobbies to get to know people. I’m playing more banjo now than I’ve ever played in my life. I go to lunch and barbeque places and play instrumental banjo. There’s a lunch spot in Morganton, GA and I asked the couple who owns it if they’d want live banjo music. They said yes, and I’ve gotten to know them and others through that opportunity.”

With everyone that Corey meets, he asks questions and listens. “I think the church, now more than ever, needs to earn the right to be heard. There’s a strong mentality of us vs. them, circle the wagons, the culture is evil. I have not experienced much of a sense of engaging the culture in this area. It’s the mountains; it’s a place where people tend toward isolation anyway. Part of ministry work here is modeling what it looks like to engage the world without being scared of the world.”

While Corey and Holly are still settling in, they are thankful for the home they’ve found in North Georgia. “It’s a respite. There are smells and feels that I haven’t experienced since my childhood,” says Corey. Holly is working at a flower shop in town and has gotten to know the couple who owns it. “Getting to hear people’s stories makes my wife and I more and more excited about getting to share the gospel.”

We look forward to hearing more stories from Corey as Christ’s name is made known in rural Appalachia. Read updates on Corey’s blog here.

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