This paper examines the experience of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Rural Practice Project (RPP), a major non-governmental effort in the last decade concentrating on the direct delivery of rural health services. The nine RPP sites started prior to 1977 showed a slow but steady increase in their utilization levels and improvement in their financial status during their initial operational years. The tempo of their development was remarkably similar to that of federally sponsored practices in underserved rural areas. After four years of operation, all of the practices had completed their period of grant support; the practices survived in all cases, with almost all of the practices still retaining community sponsorship, salaried physicians, and a commitment to comprehensive care. Practices in sparsely populated rural areas and in areas with fewer hospital beds grew more slowly than those set in rural areas with higher population density and more ancillary resources. We conclude that the use of time-limited initial subsidies is an effective strategy in starting new rural practices in underserved areas and that those practices have a good chance of surviving their start-up phase.