9 Reasons Rural Churches Still Matter

I wrote yesterday about the importance of the church connecting with cities. I confess that I’m more urban and suburban than rural, but I also recognize the importance of rural churches. In fact, I began my ministry career as pastor of a more rural church. Here are some of the reasons these churches matter:

  1. Millions of people still live in rural settings. Depending on the source of the data, anywhere from 46 million to 60 million Americans live in rural settings. Even if the majority were genuine believers, the mission field would still be large.  
  2. They often have strong relationship networks. Rural folks tend to have more immediate, close-proximity relationships through which the gospel can spread than urbanites do. In my first church, I sat amazed as family members continually reached more family members in the area.
  3. Rural churches have resources for the kingdom. “Rural” does not automatically equal “impoverished.” Even if every rural church were to close – and I’m not suggesting that should be the case – the combined resources of dollars, land, and facilities associated with rural churches offer much for God’s work.
  4. Gospel ministry needs abound in rural settings. In fact, they’re the same needs found in urban settings, though they may be more be pronounced in rural communities. Lost people still need the gospel. Broken families still need healing and security. Poor people still need food. 
  5. Rural church commitment tends to be lifelong. In some cases, that commitment negatively equals controlling the church; however, that same kind of commitment brings a “stick-to-it-ness” that churches need. These members understand their community and their congregation.
  6. Some pastors are uniquely called to serve in smaller settings. They’re usually great shepherds, caring profoundly for their sheep and investing deeply in their lives. God calls them to lead rural churches to flourish.  
  7. Rural churches are still “sending” churches. Even from small rural churches, God is still calling out the next generation of pastors and missionaries. Some rural churches within driving distance of a college or seminary even see their primary role as a training ground for young ministers.
  8. They can be a witness to the miraculous. For churches in declining rural populations, survival may be the primary goal – and significant growth would be nothing less than miraculous. God has a way, though, of making Himself known through growing churches in the most difficult and unexpected places.
  9. They are ready-made partners for urban churches. Yesterday, I encouraged all churches to figure out how to get involved in the city. Today, I offer the same challenge regarding rural congregations. If your church is a larger urban church, prayerfully look for a rural church you might assist.

What other reasons would you add to this list? 


  • Don McCutcheon says:

    Doc, Thank you for a refreshing approach to rural church ministry. It seems today that the clamoring voices of our present cilture neglect or even denigrate the vital role of God’s rural and smaller churches. Thanks.

  • Steve says:

    I moved into small-town ministry about seven years ago from attempting a church plant in a suburban area. There is a lot of need in small towns, and it’s really a whole different type of ministry. I’ve been writing about it for my seminary for little over a year: http://www.bhcarroll.edu/2016/01/rural-church-real-church.

    We need to encourage people that these small churches aren’t just for ministry rookies to get their feet wet and move on or for pastors who are ready to retire to have a soft landing. We need people who will hear the calling and commit to stay long-term, because the typical 3-year stay just won’t accomplish much.

  • Wesley Faulk says:

    Thank you for this. I pastor in a town of 1,200 people. We are one of two “full time” Baptist churches in our county. We are blessed to have grown over the past year, but most churches in our area are declining. With out our church, there would be little gospel presence in this county. The need for church planting and church revitalization in small towns is enormous. It is hard work, but the need is great.

  • Greg says:

    Thanks Dr. Lawless, Camden, Ohio is a testimony to the glory of God. Needed this.

  • Jim says:

    Something that I have noted with increasing frequency of late (although I might just be waking to this) is the number of rural churches making missions trips over large distances to assist in larger cities. For all of our insistence that rural churches need our help, it seems that the rural churches are the ones who are more often sending help and sharing their resources.

    We need to get over the idea that the location and size of the churches determines who helps who. As with the early church, we should see all churches as partners, each contributing according to their gifts.

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