Tim Griffiths, Director of Stewardship for Village Missions, read one of the above posts and sent me an email which led to a phone conversation about rural ministry. Here are some take aways from our conversation that I thought might be interesting for more people to think about.
One of the largest mission fields in the world is right out our own door.
The United States is a huge mission field and, as many of you know, the news has been full of articles about declining church attendance, a lack of interest among young people in any kind of organized religion, and a growing group of “nones”, a group that self describes as having no religious affiliation.
Rural towns and small communities are often seeing larger declines in church attendance, in part because, churches in rural or small communities are more likely to struggle to keep their doors open. When these churches close, which is happening more often than most of us realize, people are left with few options or longer drives.
There may also some truth to the idea that small towns and rural areas just aren’t getting much attention from denominations, church planting organizations, and missions groups.
The American mission field in general is huge, something that most of us realize. In recent years I have seen a big push to reach suburban and urban areas through missional church planting efforts. This is good news and we need to continue these efforts!
But it’s also important for us to focus on the “whole” and not just the part. Small communities need to stay on our radar both to disciple the believer and to reach out to those who don’t know Jesus.
Investing in Effective Ministry in Small Communities has a huge return on investment.
One of the things that I have learned from working in a small community is that the likelihood of a church or ministry reaching a large percentage of the community is much greater in a small town. It’s often possible for a church or ministry to reach 10, 20, and in some situations 50 or 60 percent of their community. In fact, the smaller the community the more likely an effective ministry can reach it’s population. I know, because I have seen it happen.
I meet with a small group of pastors, all in smaller towns or rural areas, whose ministries are reaching at a minimum 10 percent of the community and often upwards of 50% of their community. One of our churches has a larger church attendance than the town population. I know this isn’t the norm, but why can’t it be?
It grieves me to think about the number of communities and rural areas that are without an effective church or ministry. Furthermore, it grieves me to think of the large number of people who aren’t experiencing Christian community or hearing the gospel because of a lack of outreach and investment in smaller communities and rural areas.
If it is true (as Wikipedia reports) that 51 million people live outside of suburban and urban settings, and that the vast majority of them are unreached or unchurched, then we should consider this a mission field for investment.
Building Excitement for this Mission Field can Invigorate a New Generation of Leaders
One of the reasons this mission field is seeing less investment has to do with a lack of excitement for the mission field. Bible colleges and seminaries are graduating enough people to fill churches, however interest in ministry is highest for suburban settings and large churches.
This mission field isn’t getting much promotion, in part, because the size of the ministry is smaller and because the finances to support the ministry are often less stable.
I am convince though that excitement can invigorate a new generation of leaders to fill the need. I am also convinced that new streams of resources will follow.
All of this brings me back to Village Missions. Village Missions is a unique organization in that it’s entire focus is helping rural churches reach their communities. Village Missions has over 230 missionary pastors serving in small towns and rural communities throughout North America.
Village Missions assists churches and communities by helping place and support missionary pastors. You can find out more about Village Missions here. Village Missions has a model for what this might look like. (Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Village Missions.)
This conversation is more complicated than one article can address, but I wanted to get something out there for thought. We need to continually reach the “whole” of North America with the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, including the small places.
Zachariah 4:10 says “despise not the small things.” The setting was very different, but the truth is the same. When the people returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple they grieved because the new temple was smaller than Solomon’s temple. God’s word to them was, “don’t despise the small things.” What matters most is that God shows up!
We would do well to take these words to heart!
I hope to write on this more in the future, but I would love to know what you think. Consider taking a moment to comment below.