I have been blessed with the ability to have significant training from conferences, conversations, and books on church planting. One of the things that almost all of these will bring up as important in planting is your own unique context. Below are just five of the things that make the context of Ottumwa different then that of others.
1. Rural City – Ottumwa is the hub of southeast Iowa. Owning a population of just under 25,000 Ottumwa is seen as the place to go if you need anything. Yet it is a far cry from what most would consider a city. Sure it has a movie theater, restaraunts, and places to shop but even people from Ottumwa will travel an hour and a half to Des Moines or Iowa City to get additional things that they can’t get here. The city is surrounded by farm land.
2. Older Community – The population has held steady through the past 20 years but that is due in large part to the hispanic population moving in. I love the diversity but Ottumwa in general can be seen as an older/dying community.
3. Division – Every city has their own thing and Ottumwa is no different. Ottumwa struggles with being a divided city in everyway. The river divides the north from the south, there is class divide between those who have and those who don’t, there is a spiritual divide, political divide, and race divide. One of the ways this can be observed is listening to people ask where others are from and the response will always start with either, “I live on the North Side or I live on the South Side.” Jenny and I just say we live on Chester St.
4. 80/80 – Many cities have their churches and many cities have their bars. The nearest count I have in Ottumwa is that there are 80 of both. Because we meet in the Bridge View Center and they have a liquor license it is my understanding that we are the only church that can serve alcohol.
5. Economic Hardship – Ottumwa is privileged to have the companies John Deer and Cargil Meat Solutions but beyond them there isn’t much. I believe the School System, Hospital, and Wal-Mart round out the top five employers of Ottumwa.
This list is not intended to be read as things that are bad about Ottumwa. This is our context. This is what God has allowed us to enter into. Tomorrow I will list five surprise blessings from our first year.