America’s Hidden Mission Field: Why We Need Rural Churches

"Many of the least churched regions were in rural America—where about 14 percent of the U.S. population lives" - CToday

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Bert Perry's picture

We've got a number of people driving close to an hour to attend our church from rural areas in Minnesota.  You will find dormant ELCA churches out there with maybe a dozen people attending, a few Catholic Churches, but not much for fundagelical theology.  We also sent out a member a couple of years back specifically for the purpose of ministering to rural areas.

One of the big problems is that in the fundagelical churches that exist, there is often a "brain trust" of older families that keep the church culturally about 50 years back, and who have often adopted some rather "interesting" positions, theologically speaking.  I believe that's approximately the buzz saw brother Tyler ran into in the Divernon hills near Springfield. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bob Nutzhorn's picture

The real challenge, in my opinion, is finding pastors who are willing to give their life to rural ministry. It isn't glamorous, and you don't receive the recognition or accolades (and sometimes the compensation is less). I have been pastor in a rural town of 550 people in western Illinois for 19 years now. It has taken that kind of longevity to build any kind of trust in my community. You are an outsider if you have not been around for a very long time, and it is quite difficult for a church to be well-received if the pastor is viewed as an outsider in the community. I feel as though right now, finally, our church has rid ourselves of some of the past mistakes of previous Hyles type pastors, and we are beginning to see fruit from our years and years of sowing the seed. I love my small community after growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and ministering in the Madison, WI area. I so appreciate the people in our community, and I am thankful for God allowing me to stay for this long. It seems to me that too many pastors look at the rural areas as a stepping stone until God "calls" them to the big churches in big towns. It is no wonder that rural area churches die off.

Josh S's picture

Our church has begun the process of planting a church in a rural community in Iowa. It is definitely a mission field, one that is often ignored. Like Bob mentioned, it's hard to find pastors willing to serve long term in rural areas. It's a lot easier and more noticeable to do missions and church planting in high population centers.  But people in rural areas also need the Gospel. 

Josh Stilwell, associate pastor, Bethany Baptist Church, Des Moines, Iowa.

Ron Bean's picture

Having had experience in rural churches, I agree that this is a mission field in our own backyard.

There are challenges, the most common being a resistance to change. In addition, there are guaranteed to be financial stress.

Patience and the willingness to stay for as long as it takes is an essential. Personal relationships with people in the community as well as in the church is a definite "must". That's where your growth will come from.

A pastor who is bi-vocational will have a great advantage, not only as a source of income but as an opportunity to be in the community. The more flexible the other occupation is the better. The best ones I've seen are trade skills like carpentry, accounting, and  working at a funeral home.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Rob Fall's picture

who pastored rural churches in Iowa and Nebraska before WW1 did be willing to take eggs and milk as part of the tithes and offerings.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..