Boundless Opportunities: Case Study from Rural Oregon

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The timeliness of this article couldn’t have come at a better time. First, I spent the weekend galavanting around rural Oregon going to football games, walking around college campuses, visiting coffee shops, hiking around waterfalls, exploring rural communities, and taking lots of photos. Second, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in SE Portland on the heels of finishing up teaching a class this morning at Warner Pacific University. The topic we were discussing in class today was the adventure of life and the opportunities and obstacles that are inherent at small colleges versus large state universities. Particularly what opportunities does a small school offer to the student or athlete?

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Is it better to be at a big school? Small school? On Saturday I was over in McMinnville at a Linfield College football game with my middle son. We’ve been hitting up different college football games every weekend. As we walked around, took photos, and watched the game he was asking me about why athletes play at a Linfield College instead of a University of Oregon. I shared with him about the talent levels between the two as well as the reality that there are always players overlooked by larger schools because of where they came from. Either way, they are able to pursue their dreams. Regardless of how big or small the school since football is a meritocracy if you’re good enough you’ll get a sniff of the NFL, CFL, or now XFL.

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The answer to the questions regarding opportunities and obstacles is that it’s not always easy to define. In some instances there are advantages of going to a large school. Conversely, there are advantages at a small school. The same applies to cities, startups, and church planting. On the side I run a coffee roasting company. Is it better for me to be in a city like Portland or elsewhere? In some ways there are plenty of advantages here. At the same time it is such an incredibly saturated market. So does that mean there are more obstacles? When it comes to church planting are cities better than small towns? It depends. Also, are there more needs? It depends.

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Rural poverty is growing at an enormous clip. There are a lot of communities in economic decline. On top of that, most denominations and church planting networks have eschewed the rural for the urban. But like coffee roasters, while there may be a flood of church planters moving to cities like Portland they often are stacked 2-3-5 deep in the same neighborhood with other planters let alone all of the established churches. Are cities truly the best place to plant? Are rural areas better? The answer is “it depends.” Meaning, we shouldn’t focus on one over the other, but instead both/and. While I understand the ideal (and naive) notion that if you “reach the city you reach the countryside” now I see that as completely backwards. I’d contend “if you reach the rural areas you’ll influence the city.”


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Take my class this morning for example. Half the students are from Portland or its suburbs. The other half? Places across rural Oregon you’ve never heard of before. But now they’re all in Portland. They’re here to stay. Maybe not in Portland but a city. Most will never return to rural Oregon. Because of opportunities, access to jobs, and so on they’ll live in a city of at least some size.

Rural Oregon is losing it’s population to the cities (although not every community is). True. But that doesn’t mean we’re to abandon them. Instead it means even greater the opportunity to plant churches, start businesses and non-profits, and seek the betterment of these communities. Rather than obstacles I see boundless opportunities all around me.

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Yesterday as we were walking around and exploring the town of Maupin I couldn’t help but see the opportunities all around me. While I don’t know the state of the church in this community what I did see was a robust white water rafting presence. That means a revolving door of seasonal guides and tourists. Immediately my mind went towards coffee … a coffee shop … connecting with the guiding community. Some will live in RVs and other more temporary inexpensive places. What about creating a community space for them? Beyond coffee. Showers? Food? The fun part of these kinds of communities is you’re not “competing” with dozens of other planters (or coffee roasters) in your part of the city.

The opportunities are boundless. While there are pros and cons for every place you plant or launch a startup what opportunities are before you?

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Written by Sean Benesh

Director of Intrepid