Skip to Main Content

De Smet and Iroquois explore Fresh Expressions of the rural church

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC

Screenshot 2023 09 11 At 65131 Pm

Pastor Tia Felberg leads online worship for West Kingsbury online. Photos from Facebook.

"A lot of times, we count these little churches out. It just looks so different than a big church. Everything looks completely different, but there's a lot of good things happening outside of the building, which is my favorite thing," said Rev. Tia Felberg, who serves the United Methodist Churches in De Smet and Iroquois, South Dakota. She also leads West Kingsbury online worship.

The rural communities of De Smet and Iroquois are in the east-central part of the state. The community of De Smet has a population of 1, 203. The population of Iroquois is 294.

Pastor Tia Felberg travels 85 miles round trip to two congregations for worship services each week. The average worship attendance at each of the congregations is 45. She also leads a third worship service online with an average worship attendance of 50 viewers or listeners. 

At 9:30 a.m., she leads worship at the United Methodist Church in De Smet, South Dakota, and 11 a.m. in Iroquois, South Dakota. Pastor Tia records an online service that is posted on Facebook and Vimeo. Throughout the week, she does Facebook live messages on the Facebook page for De Smet and the Facebook page for Iroquois.

"The online service is very simple. I know I listen to things while driving, walking, or doing other things. So, it made sense to me to record something that people could listen to, not necessarily need to watch," said Pastor Tia. "We have a song, prayer, message, and closing song.  I record it, and my husband, Jim, edits and posts the video."

People are watching the online service and connecting with Pastor Tia. "The online service is a nice way for people who are in the local church to stay connected. They will watch or listen to the online service if they are not in church. At the end of the worship service online, I always say, if you're ever around, let me know. I will buy you a cup of coffee. If church or coming into the building isn't your thing. I totally get it. I'd love to meet you for a cup of coffee. People have taken me up on that offer more times than I can count."

Felberg has a passion for inviting people to know Jesus. She opens herself to opportunities to connect with people in lots of different places.

She describes, "I've met with people in many places that aren't the church building. I meet people at food places, coffee shops, garages, gas stations, and all sorts of places. People may like the idea of church, but maybe something is just standing in their way. Maybe they have a past hurt or something. If there's a way I can pray for you, message me. Message me if you want to talk about something or something isn't sitting right with you. People have taken me up on that opportunity."

Sometimes, when she meets with people once or twice, she never hears from them again. One person Pastor Tia met for ice cream once a week for several months is starting a new ministry. "After we met for a while, she started coming to Wednesday night services in the park in the summer. Now, she attends church regularly and is looking for ways to serve. She is starting a morning study before church and will bring treats."

In the summer, once a month, on Wednesday nights, a worship service is held outdoors. It is a casual worship with a theme.

Iroqouis Um

A group of kids gather at Iroquois UMC.

"Our congregations are small. We have a large kind of camping community and a lot of other things that happen in the summer. It is always in my heart to reach out to people not connected to a church. I love a challenge, so I thought, what if we did something less intimidating, not on Sunday morning, and bring the two churches together? Once a month, Wednesday night at seven, in the summer, we meet," Pastor Tia describes.

Four summer services are held twice in each community —De Smet and Iroquois. "We do fun series. The first summer, we did the Gospel according to Pixar. There was popcorn every time because we were at the movies. This year, we did the Gospel according to Dr. Seuss. The Cat in the Hat showed up every week before church and read the story that we were talking about. We invite people to come as you are. We can see the Gospel in ways we know, with things we already do."

The summer services appeal to many people, but one family found comfort in the casual style. "One family has attended all our summer services on Wednesday nights for the past two years. They don't come to church any other time. I reached out to them a couple of times. They don't belong to another church. They just come in the summer," said Pastor Tia.

Both congregations have thriving youth programs. "Our youth programs are great. I help quite a bit with the youth program in De Smet. Volunteers handle Iroquois. We are looking for ways to expand," said Pastor Tia. "The schools allow us to communicate with parents and kids with fliers and notices, which is nice. We have about five kids who come to worship on Sunday, and at our Wednesday night program, we have around 40-50 kids. We are working on how we reach these parents."  

Fresh Expressions is for rural churches. Pastor Tia agrees, "I love the idea of Fresh Expressions—getting out of the building. That does stop people. If we've experienced hurt in church, I'm not going in the building."

The hope for the three worshipping communities—De Smet, Iroquois, and West Kingsbury online is to reach the parents of the kids who are showing up on Wednesday nights. "We're working on a few different things to reach the parents, to try to meet them where they are. I'm excited about that."

A new diaper baby ministry is starting. Fall kick-off is in full swing, with more kids joining the Illuminate program. Parents are calling Pastor Tia to get their youth involved. The leadership of each of the congregations is in conversation about reaching people in their community.

"Good things are happening in these little churches. People are trying to figure out what it looks like to get out of the building. We have had some great conversations. The goal isn't to go to this bar or dog kennel and have church, hoping they come into our building. The goal is that people get to experience Jesus. They may never come into our building, and that's OK," Pastor Tia said.


Fresh Expressions

Rural Fresh Expressions: Michael Beck talks about Fresh Expressions in rural communities. View the video.

Fresh Expressions | September 30: Over the next year, Rev. Dr. Michael Beck will help you create a fresh expression in your context. There will be three gatherings, each of which build on the last, with group coaching in-between:

 · Imagine Day: Casting a vision, with some nuts and bolts and a plan for next steps.

 · Activate Day: A deep dive in what to do, with interactive team exercises and processing your journey.

 · Multiply Day: Reverse mentorship, with local church fresh expressions teams relaying what they learned and receiving coaching.

 Sign up for Imagine Day on September 30—register here.  


Dakotas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church 605.996.6552 slider.jpg 1331 University Ave. Mitchell SD 57301-0460 US 43.69689310 -98.03291320 122 W. Franklin Avenue Ste 400 Minneapolis MN 55404 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 W University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000