JOPLIN – Missouri Baptist pastor Rodney Rambo was a church planting intern eight years ago when an EF-5 tornado destroyed a huge swath of the Southwest Missouri city.
“We hunkered down in an apartment building,” he said. “Then we spent the night digging and looking for church members.”
He then spent about two years working in disaster relief ministry in the city.
Rambo attended a FEMA meeting as the city began the process of recovering. A FEMA worker said, “Ten years from now one out of five churches will not be in existence because of the emotional and financial toll this storm will take.”
Rambo wasn’t sure about that statistic, but says he believes it now, maybe even thinking the toll was higher than predicted.
The church plant he was working in closed. Other churches closed. Over 7,000 people moved out of the Joplin metro area after the tornado due to jobs and housing being eliminated. The city has now bounced back to the approximate pre-tornado population of about 50,000 in Joplin and 100,000 in the region.
In the place of many of the closed churches, new congregations are springing to life. One of them is Rooted Church, a Missouri Baptist church where Rodney Rambo and his wife, Shawna, serve as pastor and wife.
The Rambos moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 2014 to serve at Johnson Baptist Fellowship. After meeting a year or so in an older church that was nearing an end to its existence, they merged with a group of younger people and a church planter, named Ryan Worley to form Rooted Church-Northwest Arkansas in 2016.
But after a year of building up that church plant, the Rambos moved back to his hometown of Joplin to multiply Rooted Church there.
Rambo says, “We wanted people to be rooted in the gospel. We use a graphic of a tree in our logo to show that we are a multiplying church, taking that teaching from Colossians 2 that we should be rooted and built up in Christ.”
“Our structure is intentional to be nimble in church planting. We have structures in place to be able to plant quickly when the opportunity comes,” he added.
The Rooted congregation has leased a former Christian Church building which had sat vacant for about ten years. They have remodeled it and are building a vibrant young congregation in it’s walls.
But they don’t believe they should stay behind those brick walls. Once a month they have what they call “Shalom Sunday.” Those days the church disperses into the community for a service project. Sometimes they take coffee and breakfast to the neighborhood police station and serve the officers. Other times they go out into a park and do clean up and have worship services in a park shelter. Sometimes they package food to go out to hungry and homeless people.
Much of their growth to date has been among people who were feeling disenfranchised from church. They have been able to reconnect with many of these. They also minister to homeless people in the community, especially as the pastor is also employed part time as a worker in a community food pantry.
The church is starting to grow and is strengthening their infrastructure. They are affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention. And of course they also partner together with their fellow congregation in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Rambo is optimistic about the future. He said they may have two congregations but for now are “One church—two locations.”