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  • Kathryn Greener

Updated: Dec 28, 2020

Originally featured as a guest piece on the NCD blog and national EFCA blog.


A couple months ago, I attended our district’s conference at Camp Shamineau. It’s the first of many of “firsts” for me. New to ministry as of last June, new to marriage, new to home-owning, new to small-town Minnesota after leaving my suburban St. Paul stomping grounds for the farming community called Windom.


Feeling new wind in my sails after the conference, I’m beginning to make better sense of what it means for God to call people to small-town ministry. Because, frankly, there is sense to be made. Coming from a metro area, I’ve had to wrestle with the misconceptions around entering ministry in a rural place. At the conference, conversations long and short confirmed that I am not the only one who needs encouragement.


To the pastors and pastor’s wives hesitant to enter ministry in small places, or perhaps are already there, let me encourage you: small places need you.

Small places are worth being understood.

First, let me define what I mean by “small places.” Stephen Witmer, author of A Big Gospel in Small Places, clarifies this language as the “forgotten” places “lacking influence” that are “smaller and more isolated.” These are the towns that are often validated by their promise of Dilly Bar pitstops during road trips down country highways.


I had much more to learn about what we were really doing when we accepted the call to a church in one of these beautiful, broken places. I wondered what exactly was meaningful about small-town ministry. How could that possibly be worth our time?


If you’ve kept the prospect of small-place ministry at arm’s length, I encourage you to a simple mindset shift: small places are worth being understood.


To truly understand means setting aside what you think you know and seeing brokenness and beauty exactly as they are. In small places, cornfields are not monotonous landscape. They catch the falling sweat of saints, grow the family of God, and provide for the poor. Weather reminds us that we submit to the grace of God’s rain. The shopfronts of the town square may be half-empty, but the waitress at the local eatery knows your name and one day might know Jesus, too.


For the task of ministry in small places, you have to be willing to come, embrace it, and stay for as long as God would have you. This sacrifice requires a constant laying down of some idols of ministry—splashy programs, urban resources, full pastoral teams, your career ladder—and a growing willingness to enter into its culture. It’s not unlike Jesus’ embrace:

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)


After a couple of weeks of living in Windom, church ladies threw a charming open house for me complete with Folgers coffee and tuna crust-less sandwiches. They tenderly smiled, “So, how do you like it here?” What they were really asking was, Are we worth your time? A pastor I met at the NCD conference put it this way: “Small-town people see themselves as ‘here-to-stay’ and the pastor as transient, whereas urban folks see the people as transient and the pastor as ‘here to stay.’” The reckoning of a pastor’s eagerness to commit to rural ministry can sometimes be compounded by the pressure of locals wondering the same thing.



The grace in this is that God, and only God, can move you to embrace a willingness to understand the places and people that seem far from your preferences. Or are, quite literally, far away. This is nothing new to ministry, and nothing new to how God sees us:


“He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:17-18)


The grace in this is that God, and only God, can move you to embrace a willingness to understand the places and people that seem far from your preferences.

Small places need eager, patient pastors and pastors’ wives willing to accept God’s call to rural ministry. And if God has made it clear that he is not calling you there, lean in to attitudes that seek to understand small places and affirm the leaders who go there.

Small places give us Gospel clarity.

I remember the night we accepted the call to come to our church. We candidated with the full intent to come, my husband especially eager since his upbringing on a third-generation dairy farm has given him a heart for rural ministry. Yet we held with open hands a possibility: a split vote was likely. We were engaged at the time, young enough to be the children (and grandchildren) of most of the church members, and my husband was finishing seminary after getting licensed in the EFCA. Yet, a nearly unanimous call. It was all so counterintuitive and glorious. This is the kind of thing only God can do, I told myself.


Friends, consider the possibility that entering small-town ministry will pull you into a setting rich with opportunities for saying “only God can do this,” for crisp Gospel clarity different than the context of urban ministry.


Because small places are often under-resourced, it would be naïve to think rural measures of Gospel-change are the same as that of urban areas. Our church’s lack of visibility in mainstream channels means that no one beyond our church membership may hear my husband’s sermons. Our worship team doesn’t have a drum set. “No, we actually don’t have a youth group,” I tell my suburban friends. And when I heard other ministry couples share their COVID-19 coping strategies at the NCD conference, I felt a tinge of doubt: are we doing enough? Could God really be at work here?


Being in a rural area is a constant reminder that God does, in fact, change hearts in places where typical markers of ministry success seem absent. Discipleship has to first be the prayer that people’s eyes would be opened (Ephesians 1:18) to see Jesus. Yes, it can happen with professional worship teams, strategic capital campaigns, and a blossoming pastoral staff. But disciple-making is ever and always the work of God in small steps through our meek belief, the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might” (Ephesians 1:19).


Small places, then, are this glorious opportunity to reckon with the notion that it is God alone who makes his people become like Jesus. This becoming happens through incredibly small, back-to-the-basics forms.


Small places, then, are this glorious opportunity to reckon with the notion that it is God alone who makes his people become like Jesus. This becoming happens through incredibly small, back-to-the-basics forms.

For example, my husband’s relationships with our church overseers have laid the groundwork for radical discipleship, one tractor ride and McMuffin breakfast at a time. I’ve celebrated normally tentative church members’ newfound eagerness to pray aloud. Most nights, my husband and I pray prayers like “thank you that you moved so-and-so to join Katie’s Bible study.” And one of my favorites—a retired woman biked to our house and knocked on our porch door to share with teary eyes how God, through my husband’s online sermon on recent racial issues, deeply convicted her. These moments are where I see the Gospel most clearly. And it takes even bigger prayers for a humbled spirit inside me that rejoices in these smallest of moments.

Small places are loved by Jesus.

At our installation service last year, an NCD staff member charged us with a call to live “loved by Jesus.” He turned to the writings of the disciple John, who often referred to himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Living loved changes us. It’s our new identity. It’s why we love ministry in the first place.


Friends, small places, too, are loved by Jesus. When I look at the footprint of Jesus’ ministry, I see that it was podunk towns like Nazareth and Galilee where he spent his time and called ordinary fishermen to be his disciples. I believe Jesus loved these places. And if he loves them, then they are worth investing in for the long haul.


Perhaps you’ve been in rural ministry and felt God’s calling out of it. Or you’re on the cusp of a career change but have disregarded the possibility of ever going to a small town. I get it—it’s not for everyone. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m still finding my vocational niche. Driving in blizzard whiteouts to work certainly doesn’t win any points for me. Admittedly, it will take years of small discipleship victories for us to truly be seen as “belonging” to our community. And that’s okay.


Consider anew that rural places—and people—are loved by Jesus, and that Jesus can awake in you a love for them. Not because of anything they inherently offer you, but because God loves them first. This is, once again, the Gospel: the good Shepherd loves his sheep, knows each of their names, and unashamedly devotes his life to theirs (John 10:11-18).


Ironically, in our prayers for Christ-like love, God has surprised us with love completely uncalled for. A church member has freely supplied our frozen beef for the last 16 months. Another farmer has generously backed up his personal Dodge, his trailer, and even grain truck into our driveway to help clear the debris of multiple house renovations. And even when I have to tell yet another church lady, “I’m really not into crafts,” the hand-stamped card she delivers on my birthday reminds me that we’re really, really loved.


Jesus has softened me to say, “I love being here.” It’s the most true, unexpected reality I know. I’m glad that God’s idea for “all God’s people” (Eph. 1:15) is better than any one southwest Minnesota farming community or inner-city church plant or Iron Range congregation. To our ministry brothers and sisters specifically in small places: you are not alone. Know that because of God’s transformation in our small place, we are praying for you like Paul does in his letter to the Ephesians:


“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Eph. 1:15-16).


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  • Kathryn Greener

I believe leaders and entrepreneurs should be as widely read as possible. This versatility virtue is even more important in grant writing, where sifting through tons of research on everything from infant diapers to chronic homelessness to Lego’s is totally normal.

What I do? I subscribe to various blogs, email lists, YouTube channels, and research powerhouses. I listen to podcasts and hop on webinars. And my occasional plea to the local librarian “can you renew this one again?” reminds me that I still shortchange the attention books demand of me.


Therefore, even as you seek books that you will enjoy reading, demand ones that make demands on you. In so doing, you can’t help but grow in virtue.

-Karen Swallow Prior, "Good Books Make Better People"


Being widely-read in the nonprofit world does a few things:

  • Builds intuition. You learn to better speak the language of the industry you’re in. And, by extension, the language of the people you’re working with.

  • Sharpens writing. Good readers are good writers, able to pull from an ever-expanding repertoire of facts, illustrations, and really punchy vocabulary.

  • Broadens perspectives. Like the connection between reading stories and being a person of empathy, staying widely read broadens my understanding of the quirks and challenges facing nonprofits across the sector.


If you're not sure where to start, here's a few of my go-to nonprofit specific resources.


GrantAdvisor

Like TripAdvisor, GrantAdvisor is my go-to for honest reviews on grantmakers. The crowdsourced website is fairly new in the philanthropy world. Reviewers can rate and leave honest feedback related to key areas like a funder’s timeliness, accessibility, and the average time spent on applications. It’s basically awesome. Reviews have helped me discover “I’m not the only one who had this experience” or whether to say “they’re not worth my time” to funders I had my eyes on. The hope is, too, that funders would see GrantAdvisor as a means of accepting feedback they would otherwise have no platform of receiving, and to break down some of the stiff-arming that can happen in Foundation Elitism.


NonprofitAF

NonprofitAF is a “no-BS approach,” so-dang-on-point, slightly irreverent blog and resource site of Vu Le, nonprofit specialist. There are days when pesky character counts or re-formatting entire budget spreadsheets or papercuts while stuffing envelopes make me wonder if I’m the only one going crazy. NonprofitAF reminds me that I’m not alone. Power dynamics are real. Burnout is real. But I can’t take myself too seriously. "There’s tons of humor in the nonprofit world, and someone needs to document it.” #nonprofitunicorn


FundingforGood

Amanda Pearce doesn’t know I’m saying this, but her consulting business FundingforGood is the best! I’m a big fan of their client approach. Mandy & co. are experts when it comes to becoming grant-ready and developing boards. Her team has tons of freebies on the website, relevant blog posts, and quick-listen YouTube videos that have helped me in my grant-seeking strategies.


MN Council for Nonprofits

Minnesota Council for Nonprofits is pretty standard in the MN nonprofit world, and certainly a go-to for me when it comes to nonprofit directories, resources, networking, and sector research. When I lived in the Twin Cities, I attended various network luncheons and the annual conference. I'm not a member, but certainly could be persuaded.



Nearly every website has some kind of free newsletter or updates for email subscribers. These are excellent for staying up-to-date on grant cycle announcements or relevant webinars. I subscribe to updates (for free) & check in on these platforms:

  • Minnesota Compass

  • Wilder Research

  • Facebook Nonprofit Happy Hour

  • Nonprofit Quarterly

  • Puget Sound Grantwriters Association

  • Minnesota Council on Foundations

  • The Grantsmanship Center

  • Wild Apricot

  • Big Duck

  • GrantStation

  • Local funders (like Southwest Initiative Foundation)


A few of my go-to podcasts (available pretty much everywhere) include...

  • Freakonomics Radio (The "hidden side of everything")

  • Planet Money (MPR explains the economy)

  • RadioLab (Documentaries in podcast form)

  • The Disrupters (Hosted by Esau McCaulley, through InterVarsity Press)

  • The Holy Post (VeggiesTales creator hosts conversations on evangelicalism & culture)

  • Pass the Mic (An arm of The Witness Black Christian Collective)


Books I'm reading? That's another post for later.


Reach out if you've got a great read I didn't mention. Or pick my brain about how to get in-the-loop on news in the nonprofit world.

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  • Kathryn Greener

Updated: Apr 7

It’s a blustery day in October. Still in the middle of a global pandemic, the US presidential election 21 days away from my time of writing, and me reveling at the end of the 2019 remake of Little Women with Saoirse Ronan. Plenty of important (and less important) topics for a blog post. Especially a FIRST blog post!


"Oh bother!" said Pooh. "I shall have to go on."

I thought it would be helpful to take time to address some frequently asked questions I’ve received. These are from clients I’ve worked with, from common questions I’ve seen in the nonprofit world, and honestly, questions I’ve had to ask myself. I hope some of these resonate with you and encourage you to go on. If you have other questions, please reach out, or subscribe to the blog for future posts that may answer questions you didn’t even know you had.

How did you learn to write grants?

My background is in Literature & Writing, which I will unashamedly say is a great foundation for a variety of careers. Mid-college, I took a course in grant writing. The course initially turned me off to what sounded like boring, technical work. But what struck me was the personality of the guest speakers who came to my class. They made the world of grants sound far more compelling, relational, and strategic than merely “grant writing.” And, as I’ve found over the last four years, they were right. I worked in the university’s grants department, which gave me the skills for my next role as a grants coordinator for a human services agency. After moving from the Twin Cities to small-town MN, I’ve found my niche in grants consulting.

What is your grant award success rate?

Naming a percentage success rate or a ratio (for example, 85% of grants applied for get funded) is certainly a popular snapshot of success. After all, you’re paying someone to ultimately get funds, right? I’ve found that this marker isn’t a helpful measurement of success, and can actually be misleading. Every proposal is different. Funding is never guaranteed—even for the most qualified projects. And receiving funding is not synonymous with long-term organizational success.

Success to me is getting clients in the best position possible for grants seeking and stewardship.

Often, I’ve found that grant awards follow organizations dialed in on willingness to learn & change. Other times, I consider a client relationship highly successful when we discover that grants maybe aren’t their funding sweet spot after all.

Can you give me a list of grants that my organization could apply for?

Yes, I can! However, realize that a “list of grants” depends on your organizational readiness, your industry, and location—which can take time to develop. Schedule a consultation with me so I can learn more about your organization (check out the grant-readiness checklist at the end of this post). Then, I’ll work with you to draft a scope of work so I can commit to finding the best-fit information for you.

What is your process?

Typically, I meet with clients over video chat or in-person (ahem, coffee) to learn more about their organization. If we’re a good fit, I’ll write up a scope of work tailored to the services your organization needs.

How much time does it take to write a grant?

Well, it depends. I’ve worked on projects that took anywhere from 1 hour to 100 hours to complete. Even small one-page applications can have pesky, time-consuming steps. “Writing a grant” involves far more than wordsmithing. Time depends on a couple factors:

  • Availability of accurate organizational language & relevant attachments

  • Readiness of an organization to invest time in managing a program, developing a budget, or maintaining tracking systems of grant fund expenditures

  • Complexity of application requirements like site visits, long-range financial plans, involved collaborations, or various endorsements


If I work with you, what is the likelihood that my organization can get funding?

I can never guarantee funding for anyone in the same sense that I don’t claim a “success rate.” An organization’s likelihood to get funding is usually determined by its overall readiness before I even begin working with them. Funders can see straight through even the most persuasive of proposals if the organization is simply not ready or a good fit. What I CAN do is help position you for success in the world of grants based on your readiness and fitness with the current grants landscape. Reach out if you’d like to hear more specifics on my grants portfolio and strategy.

How do I know if I should work with you?

Take a look at my “services” page. If you identify, let’s talk! If you have another project idea… well, let’s talk! I’m always up for learning more about the challenges facing nonprofits and how I can work alongside you.

Can I pay you a percentage of the grant?

The short answer: nope. Unlike competitors, I do not accept incentive pay, contingency fees, commission-based page, or finder’s fees. They are considered slipshod in the grants consultant community, unethical in the eyes of funders, and generally a bad idea for organizations. I abide by the Grant professionals Association code of ethics and recommend further reading on this topic here.

We’re a small organization and can’t afford to pay a grant writer. Can we still work with you?

Short answer: yes. Regardless of your budget, I’d love to have an initial consultation with you to better understand your needs and budget challenges.


Long answer: I’ve found that organizations unable to pay a grant writer a fair project or hourly salary are often not ready to apply for or manage grant funds. And that’s okay. Take a look at my grants checklist for starters. Your responses will be a good indicator of your readiness to venture into the grants world. Check out this resource for more info. Also, let me encourage you that in many cases, grants are not the end all be all.

A good grants consultant will dissuade you from “chasing dollars” and give you honest recommendations for the best use of your time.

Have a question that I didn’t cover? Reach out to me and I’ll include it in an extension of this post.


See the client checklist I keep talking about here:

Grant Readiness Checklist
.pdf
Download PDF • 52KB




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©2020 by Katie Greener.