Rural Ministry

Why Smaller Churches Are Making a Comeback

"Two-thirds of churches have an attendance under 125. The smaller church is the norm, not the exception. And though the news has not been that promising for smaller churches in recent years, I do see some very promising signs for the years ahead. Why do I make such an apparently contrarian statement? Here are five reasons." - Thom Rainer

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Revitalization in Rural Churches, Part 2

Republished from Voice, Jan/Feb 2018. Read Part 1.

Deal with Unresolved Conflict

We can learn valuable lessons about dealing with unresolved conflict from the example of Nehemiah in 5:1-13. To truly lead restoration work we have to be willing to deal with unresolved conflict. There is probably no greater need in rural restoration work than to become proficient in the skill of conflict resolution. In the rural setting, after a time of evaluation, it will often become obvious that unresolved conflict is a major cause for decline.

You can’t ignore conflict, because it will not simply “go away.” For a while the tension in a situation or relationship may subside, but unless the root issue is understood and worked through, it’s only a matter of time before the conflict will rear its ugly head again and this time with much more intensity. Unresolved conflict severely impacts the testimony of a church in the rural setting, so be willing to rely on the One who breaks down walls. Fulfill your calling as a peacemaker.

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Revitalization in Rural Churches, Part 1

Republished from Voice, Jan/Feb 2018.

One of my favorite pastimes is driving across rural America and looking at old country churches. It pains me when I see those time-worn yet beautiful church buildings being neglected while nature and the elements take over and lead to their eventual ruin. My passion for old church buildings led me to purchase one particular church building in rural Western Nebraska five years ago. The little church had closed a year earlier. My grandfather John Miles had been the last pastor of the church until he passed away at age 92 and the church eventually closed. The building has nostalgic value to me.

Since purchasing the old church building, my wife and I and some talented friends of ours have been restoring it so that it could become our home. This summer we finally completed this five year process of patiently restoring a church building that was in decline and we moved in.

I have a similar passion for restoration when a local body of believers find themselves in a state of decline. It is difficult to see a local church that is in various stages of decaying or dying. I’ve had the tremendous privilege of pastoring in rural settings and being a part of what I like to call “restoration ministry.” I’ve had a front-row seat as I watched God infuse life into His people in these localities.

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Understanding the Small Church - Six Trends

From Voice, Jul/Aug 2013. Used by permission. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Though we may understand the characteristics of the small church, ministry is not static, but dynamic. It is not conducted in a sterile test tube isolated from the winds of culture. Instead, we find that the culture in which we live intertwines with the programs we conduct. As a result, the trends that blow across the cultural landscape infiltrate the cracks of the church and affect the ministry and flow of the congregation. Some of these trends are positive, resulting in new opportunities to reach people for Christ. Others undermine the foundation of the church and, if not confronted with a biblical response, assault the stability of the ministry. Still others are neutral, having in themselves no moral or spiritual implications, but radically affect the manner in which the church conducts its ministry.

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Understanding the Small Church - Truly Different

From Voice, Jul/Aug 2013. Used by permission.

When David arrived at his first pastorate, he was excited about the possibilities. The church was a small church located on the fringe of a large metropolitan area. David had received high marks in his seminary experience and he was well trained for ministry. Before and during seminary he had attended a large, nationally recognized church in one of the major cities of the United States. He had spent six months on staff as an intern in order to get a feel for developing ministries and leading the programs of the church.

However, upon his arrival at the small church he sensed things were vastly different from his large church experience. And after he had been serving as the pastor for several months, David fully realized that the small church functioned with a unique set of characteristics. At first he tried to change them. Following the recommendations of the latest writings on the seeker-sensitive model of ministry, he tried to bring the church up to the 21st century (at least in his estimation). After several frustrating years, he stepped back and decided that perhaps he first needed to understand his people and what they wanted the church to be and do.

He began to do some careful listening and realized that they had the same heart for evangelism, discipleship and worship that he possessed, only they expressed it differently. Rather than try to change them, he decided that he would change his own attitudes and actions. For the first time since his arrival, he accepted them for who they were and how they expressed their faith in Christ.

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