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Rural Church Development News: Podcasting Adventures, Adopting Rural Towns, and More

Updated: May 25

Coinciding with his unconventional ministry setup, Corey Pelton, leader of Rural Church Development (RCD) in north Georgia, likes to explore new methods of connecting with people. One method he’s used over the years to facilitate conversations and connection is podcasts. Another method he’s initiating this year is having churches “adopt” nearby small towns.

Corey explains, “Making podcasts gives me structure for my own learning. Kind of selfishly, they force me to ask questions and listen.” As he wrote in a newsletter update, “Being inquisitive is a fantastic ministry gift that anybody can learn to utilize. It not only begins to break down barriers but it can also make us wiser and more compassionate people. I am discovering that many people do not ask meaningful questions but are starving to be heard.”

Corey first entered the world of podcasting when pastoring in South Carolina. He called the podcast “Fish Food.” He drew inspiration from II Corinthians 1:3-4 which reads, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (ESV)

“That passage stuck out to me,” Corey says. “‘So that we may be able to comfort those who are in affliction.’ If we’re receiving the mercy of Jesus in affliction, that experience is not just for self-absorption. I began interviewing people who’ve been through difficult things.”

He invested in a portable recorder and microphone set that he could easily set up. During the COVID-19 shutdowns, he hosted another podcast called “My Street,” which was an easy way to get to know his neighbors. “It was hilarious and fun. Most of our neighbors had lived on that street for 50 years.”

Then, in 2021 as he was exploring the idea of Rural Church Development and the call to rural ministry, Corey started “One Horse Town.” (Click here to listen to it.) “I was intrigued by small town ministry and was exploring if this was something I felt called to do or should do.”

He interviewed pastors in small towns and an author of a book about small town ministry. Corey says, “That was helpful to me to hear about the variety of small town ministries.” During this season, he also listened to a podcast called “Rural Pastor Talk.”

His most recent podcast is called “Trash Talk,” and this one provided a way to engage Will Davis in conversations about theology. (Click here to listen to it on Spotify.) Our presbytery is supporting Will’s seminary education while he also pastors a small church in Corey’s area. Will is bivocational. In addition to pastoring, he owns and runs a waste collection company with a fleet of four trash trucks. Will drives one of the trucks himself, and Corey rode around with him while recording the podcast, hence the name “Trash Talk.”

The podcast gave Corey a way to spend time with Will and ask him questions about theology. “Will gets to verbalize out loud what he’s learning as he’s studying. It’s a fun podcast. It also gives him a voice in the community beyond his congregation.”

The podcast is authentic and spur of the moment: While Corey thought through each topic, he posed the questions to Will in the moment, and Will’s answers reflected his processing. “It helps me know what he’s learning,” says Corey. In this case, Corey’s job of pastoring and mentoring takes the form of asking and listening.

Each of these podcasts served a purpose for a short time. Reflecting back on them, Corey explains that “Fish Food” was to help people process their stories and also minister to others in suffering, while “Trash Talk” is to help Will express his learning and give him a voice outside of his church. Corey wants “Trash Talk” listeners to hear about Will and where he’s from. One church in particular in Louisiana has connected, long-distance, with Will’s story and ministry through videos and the podcast.

This year, Corey was also a guest on “Pillar & Ground,” the podcast of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church (a sending/supporting church). Corey explained, “They get the podcast out to their church so the congregation can hear about who they’re supporting.” Click here to listen to the episode.

In other news, RCD formed a local 501(c)(3) entity. Corey explains, “I felt like there was a need locally to come alongside the community here.” While it’s also called Rural Church Development, the nonprofit is separate from Mission to North America’s RCD accounts and operates in a different manner. Corey could potentially hire staff through the 501(c)(3), and he uses it for fundraising.

For example, he became friends with a dirt track racing community by sponsoring a car in the races. This was funded through the 501(c)(3). He also sponsored a Future Farmers of America participant who was raising and showing a pig. “I paid for half of his pig and got to engage with him and his family. Things like this through the nonprofit are ways for me to get to know parts of the community by serving and helping them.”

Corey also developed two strategic goals for 2024 in conjunction with presbytery leadership. First, he set the goal of leading a retreat for small town pastors, and he’s been working on it for the last few months. Over July 22-25th, Corey and a handful of pastors in small town and rural settings will gather in Ellijay, GA. “Rural areas and small towns are unique pastoral settings, so this is a way for us to connect. We’ll ask, what are your struggles, what’s working well? We’ll brainstorm together for a couple of days.”

Corey also sees this as an opportunity to serve these pastors and offer rest and recreation. He describes it as a restful, prayerful retreat with opportunities for fly fishing, floating a river, hiking, and eating deliciously smoked meat.

Second, Corey is finding five established churches in the Tennessee Valley Presbytery who will commit to “adopting” a small town close to the church. He wants these churches to pray for that town and pick a person from their congregation to visit the town at least once a week with the simple goal of getting to know people.

TVP MNA (through RCD) that has resources available if help is needed funding these people. Corey explained, “I will coach the incentivized people regularly to help them think through where to go and what questions to ask.” This kind of relationship building is not new to him; it’s what he’s been doing in north Georgia for the last 2.5 years.

From there, Corey and these churches will see where the Lord takes the relationships with the towns. They’ll be looking for opportunities to start small groups, Bible studies, or core groups for future churches, but with plans held loosely and open hands. Corey says, “Some people are willing to have a conversation, and some people aren’t, but I’m really excited about this.”

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