What are some of the advantages of a rural church?

This question was posed to me in a recent interview with a writer putting together an article about rural congregations.

After responding that while some rural churches are large, many of them are smaller, I told him that I would give him the advantages of a smaller church. They include:

1. People experience community in a smaller church.

We live in a time where many people feel alone. Too often we do not know many of our neighbors. Family members often move away due to their careers or for other reasons.

As a result, many people crave a sense of community, and a smaller church can provide that. A small church can be a place where “everybody knows your name.”

I am convinced that smaller churches that do a good job of offering community to people will grow.

2. People have an opportunity to serve.

It is true that people today are less likely to join an organization than in the past, but it is also true that people are looking for a place where they can serve and make a difference in people’s lives.

Smaller churches never have enough volunteers. If we give people opportunities and the freedom to serve in places where they feel needed, we will see our ministries expand.

3. Small churches communicate quickly.

Sometimes this can be a negative reality, especially if there is some controversy. But rapid communication is important as it allows the small church to rally around a family or member that may be going through a difficult time or who has lost a loved one.

This increases the sense of community referred to above.

4. People share common experiences.

The small, rural church I served as pastor consisted of many retired people, blue collar workers, farmers and very few professional people. When I first went to the church, there was only one person with a college degree, a teacher.

In the smaller church, everything is based on relationships, and it is much easier to build relationships with people who share common experiences.

When I went to the church as a bivocational pastor, my other job was working on the assembly line in a factory. I had been raised on a farm and understood that life. I quickly was able to fit in, which was a huge advantage for me as the pastor.

5. People are more important than programs or performances.

You seldom have to audition to sing in a small church choir. In fact, you may not even be able to carry a tune, but no one cares because you are part of the family. Again, it’s about relationships and community.

One of the first questions people ask when challenged with change is how will this change impact the relationships that exist in the church.

If it is feared that the change will have a negative impact, it will often be resisted because people are more important.

I realize that each of these qualities can also be a hindrance to the ongoing ministry of the church.

Resisting change because it might lead to damaged relationships in the church can hinder a church from a new ministry God wants them to pursue.

A church where everyone is alike can lead to a very narrow understanding of the world in which we live and serve.

While there can be negatives for each of these strengths, these are some of the elements that have enabled smaller churches to survive and provide ministry to their communities for decades.

In recent years, we have been challenged to build on our strengths and find ways to manage around our weaknesses.

As a small church leader, you want to build on these five strengths found in many smaller churches.

Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. He blogs at Bivocational Ministry, where a version of this article first appeared. It is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.

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