It is easy in today’s church planting culture to see greater value in planting churches in large cities or urban areas. While that is important, Jesus said he came that "none" should perish. To reach all those people Christ is after we must look to the "hill country" as well. The areas that may be less attractive, and have less glitter in the eyes of some.
I am one of those who planted in the "hill country" in a small town of 4,500 with one stop light that at 6 pm every night blinks red in all directions. People who visit ask if that light is always broken. If you know...you know.
We planted a church n Waukon, IA in 2002. Today we are a church of over 300 and doing significant ministry to our community. We have a yearly trunk or treat that attracts well over 1,500 people. We were a distribution site for food giveaways to locals, we unloaded dozens of semi-trailers for over a year filled with meat, vegetables, and dairy, loading it into cars that were lined up for hours before we began each week. We are seen as an important part of our community. We were a host sight for the great bike ride across Iowa (RAGBRAI). Our building has been used by dozens of community organizations. But most important, most of those who attend have come to know Jesus here, being baptized and discipled into Christ followers. I’m not bragging. I’m just saying there is as much here, when God is at work, as any place else.
George W. Garner writes.
“We often use the phrase for some remote rural area, ‘out-in-the middle of nowhere.’ No place is or no person is unimportant to God and should not be to us if we are obedient to our Master. Every place is some place for someone. Every person is someone to some person.
If we are to be faithful to the Great Commission, we have no choice but to be concerned for all people. Therefore, an equal priority must be given not only to reaching the massive cities of our continent, but also the small cities, towns, and countryside populations.”
Planting churches in rural areas can present unique challenges and opportunities compared to planting churches in urban or suburban areas. Here are some of the things that are unique about planting churches in rural areas:
Geographic Isolation: Rural areas tend to be more spread out and geographically isolated, which can make it more difficult to build a sense of community and to reach out to potential members. Church planters need to be creative in finding ways to connect with people in different parts of the community and to make sure that everyone feels included. The internet has leveled the playing field. Anything you deal with in a larger context we deal with in a small town. Many people think that a small town has nothing to offer. I recently sent two videos to a friend from the area I live. His response was “That’s Iowa? That’s where you live?” Here are the 2 videos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6bKt-zdgfk & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lofHWudBwJc
Limited Resources: Rural areas may have limited resources, both in terms of financial support and access to trained leaders. Church planters may need to be more self-sufficient and creative in finding ways to finance and staff the new church. I never received a full salary from planting. God instead used me in many more ways. Our first year I worked in a machine shop. I still have metal slivers! But I learned so much about the people I live among.
Strong Community Ties: Rural areas often have strong community ties, and people may be more likely to attend church if they know and trust the church planters. Building relationships and establishing trust with the community is key to the success of a rural church plant. For our first 10 years we were seen as a cult or one of ‘Those churches’. People here are loyal to their denominations, even if they NEVER attend. Many families have community ties that go back over a century.
Different Cultural Norms: Rural areas may have different cultural norms and values than urban or suburban areas. Church planters need to be aware of these differences and be willing to adapt their approach to meet the needs of the community. Tune in to what makes the community tick. When Friday night is Highschool football don’t schedule something go to the game. Many small towns the school IS the center of all things. Help your community by supporting the school.
Role of Agriculture: In many rural areas, agriculture plays a central role in the local economy and way of life. Church planters may need to find ways to incorporate the agricultural community into the life of the church and to address the unique needs and challenges of farmers and rural residents. I have been in many barns and combines. Don’t be so self-focused on your own plans. These people have a lot you can learn from. Live large! Overall, planting churches in rural areas requires a deep understanding of the community and a willingness to adapt to the unique challenges and opportunities presented by rural life. These are hard working people who value those same values in you. Remind me to tell you sometime about shoveling 3’ of pigeon manure from a roof vent one time. You can’t ask of people what you won’t do yourself.
Grit and flexibility is a key skill set to these smaller communities. You will last as long as your commitment to your calling.
We cross paths with 4,500 people every day. 4,500 people who all want to find eternity.
We have that knowledge. We know that name. Jesus.
As my friend Pastor Kendall Anderson has said; "Listen, a church of 100 people is not a waste of your life."
Let’s plant more churches in small places! To learn more about church multiplication at CNC, contact Marlan Mincks.