In North Carolina, most United Methodist congregations are found in rural areas, where churches serve as the center of weekly worship and as a home for important outreach programs. With rural communities facing multiple challenges, the role these congregations play is greater than ever.
Since 2006, a collaborative effort between The Duke Endowment, Duke Divinity School and North Carolina’s two United Methodist conferences has focused on supporting rural churches. Called the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative, the multi-layered program helps develop leaders for service, increase congregational strength and inspire innovation.
An ongoing evaluation shows that participating churches are outperforming other United Methodist churches in North Carolina in six important categories, including worship attendance, number of baptisms, and number of children and youth in Sunday school.
In 2011, Trustees of The Duke Endowment approved sustaining – and enhancing – the initiative. Using findings from the evaluation, the effort will enter a “2.0” phase with funding for another five years.
“This is the fruit of all the learning we have done,” says the Rev. Jeremy Troxler, who heads the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative at Duke Divinity School. “The initial ideas have been tested and purified, and have become more focused. In the next phase, an already strong program will move forward.”