the shape of leadership

Remembering the Forgotten Places

A conversation with Gerad Strong and Rhea Falig

Chris Colvin on July 30, 2019

When you think of multisite churches, rural areas in sparsely populated states may not come immediately to mind. But that isn’t stopping Bethel Church (Assemblies of God) in Rapid City, South Dakota, from multiplying.

In 2012, Gerad Strong sensed God calling him to try a new ministry approach. As lead pastor of Bethel, the same church in which he accepted Christ, Strong had a vision to reach an overlooked group.

“What if we took on the mindset of reaching forgotten people in forgotten places?” he asked.

Struggling communities dot the vast open plains of South Dakota and are ripe for harvest. They just need a fresh start. From Rapid City, Strong and his team decided to spread out. They planted satellite campuses in three towns, including Edgemont, where they took over a struggling district church. With fewer than 800 people in the entire village, growing the church was a big challenge.

“My husband, Eric, and I weren’t sure what to expect,” says Rhea Falig, who serves as campus pastor at the Edgemont location. “But we were sure God would be faithful. His call has been our anchor.”

Early on, the Bethel team made the decision to employ video sermons at each satellite campus. They initially wondered whether this approach would work in rural settings, but it has been successful.

“It was really out of necessity,” Strong says. “It’s the best way to transfer the DNA of Bethel quickly with these new congregations.”

Struggling communities dot the vast open plains of South Dakota and are ripe for harvest.

Falig grew up in a rural setting, but always thought ministry that mattered happened in larger places.

“I never considered rural to be a mission field,” she says. “Then the Lord spoke to me and said that Edgemont is not far off, forgotten or forsaken. That word shifted my heart forever.”

Falig says a willingness to invest in relationships has been crucial.

“In a rural setting, there can be a mentality to stay inward focused,” she says. “Eric and I had to be very intentional about creating friendships very quickly.”

One tool they’ve used to build friendships is the same video screen they once thought might be off-putting. Since Edgemont has no movie theater, the church hosts family movie nights, which has helped attract several newcomers.

Falig is involved in the community, serving on the chamber of commerce and working as a staff writer for the local newspaper.

“Whatever door God opens, we’re walking through,” she says.

Under Falig’s leadership as campus pastor, the Edgemont location has seen tremendous growth, more than doubling in size — with much of the increase representing new converts. Half the congregation has accepted Christ as Savior within the past year.

“It’s really been a field ripe for harvest,” Falig says.

Along with Edgemont, Bethel Church is launching new campuses this year in Wall, Summerset, and Sturgis, South Dakota. But the church isn’t stopping there. Plans are already in place to open more campuses in the coming years as God directs.

The kingdom of God is expanding — even in the most sparsely populated places.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 edition of Influence magazine.

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