Rural ministry is experiencing a resurgence in the US even as economic and demographic numbers continue their decline.
These days, living in small-town America often means living with less.
2018 marked another year of decline in many rural and small towns: economies suffering; local residents aging or moving away; and many struggling with addiction, disillusionment, or depression.
But just as the nation declares a crisis in small communities, the church has seen new momentum around rural ministry. Proud pastors from blue-collar outskirts, flyover country farmlands, and cozy mountain towns proclaim that in God’s kingdom, less is more.
In new books, blogs, networks, and conferences, these leaders resist popular narratives about rural America to instead embrace the gospel lessons they encounter when doing ministry on a small scale.
“One of the things that the rural church reminds the global church of is God’s commitment to be with people everywhere. We as the people of God have been sent to the ends of the earth and sometimes rural is one of those ends,” said Brad Roth, pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kansas.
“Not every place is going to have the same potential for that growth metric. But every place is still beloved by God and worthy of our best and most thoughtful ministry as the church.”
While plenty of materials are geared toward church growth in bigger congregations, more resources are emerging for leaders in smaller contexts. America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, dedicated its annual pastors’ conference—long the domain of megachurch pastors—to small-church pastors in 2017.
“Despite rapid global urbanization, many millions around the world continue to live in small towns and rural areas. God is calling some of us to live …