The new church planting strategy of many denominations focuses on large urban areas in an effort to reach the largest numbers of people.
As more and more people are moving to the large cities, it makes sense that denominations will focus their church planting efforts and resources on those locations.
The problem with this strategy is that it ignores the rural areas and small towns that dot our nation’s countryside and can imply that the people who live in those places are inconsequential to the Kingdom of God.
As the former pastor of a smaller, rural congregation, I don’t agree with that at all. After all, 60 percent of all Protestant churches in America average 60 people or less on Sunday morning.
Many might look at these churches as dead or dying with little to offer, and for too many of these churches this is true.
But there are other ways of looking at many of these churches that are more accurate.
They are well positioned to have an impact on the lives of people far larger than their size might indicate.
The missing element in these churches has often been a lack of good, long-term leadership and a lack of any kind of God-given vision for ministry.
Without these two things, most churches will drift along without purpose or impact, including the smaller, rural churches that too many want to write off today.
Studies have demonstrated for several years that many pastors refuse to serve in such churches.
For numerous reasons, seminary-trained pastors view these churches as beneath them.
They do not offer the facilities, the opportunities, the prestige and, let’s admit it, the salaries and benefits these pastors are seeking.
When the smaller, rural church comes calling, ministers can spiritualize their reasons for refusing to go there, but in reality they often never really gave that potential call any real consideration.
Denominational leaders do not encourage their better pastors to consider these churches either.
In fact, some may discourage them from going to such churches as it could harm the pastor’s opportunities for further advancement in ministry.
As the pastor of a small, rural church for 20 years and now a judicatory leader for the past 13 years, I have seen the problems and potential of smaller churches up close and personal.
I have seen the problems that result from inadequate leadership and the absence of vision, and I have seen the amazing potential some of these churches have achieved when both good leadership and vision were present.
I know of churches sitting in the middle of cornfields that continue to experience amazing growth year after year.
Therefore, to ignore the possibilities that exist in the rural and small town communities is a mistake.
Shannon O’Dell’s book, “Transforming Church in Rural America,” tells the story of his reluctance to accept a call to a small, rural church in which he saw few possibilities.
That church has now grown to become a multi-campus church of several thousand people with national and global outreach, which he details in a fascinating story of challenges, resistance and reluctant change on the part of the congregation.
Do I believe every small church can accomplish what O’Dell’s congregation has achieved? No, which perhaps demonstrates a lack of faith on my part.
What I do believe is that many of the smaller churches in rural and small town communities can transform into significant ministries in their communities in accordance to the plans that God has for each church.
I also believe that serving in these churches is a worthy calling of God on a person’s life that should not be ignored just because it appears to be an insignificant ministry.
Denominations must not ignore these churches, either.
Invest in planting new churches in the larger cities if you choose, but if denominations continue to ignore the possibilities many of their smaller churches offer, they will find that God will do an “end-run” and raise up ministries in churches that many did not believe possible.
When that happens, those denominations that ignored their smaller churches for decades should not be surprised when these churches ignore them in the future.
Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Ind., for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Bivocational Ministry, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter: @DennisBickers.
Dennis Bickers is a church consultant and author. He served previously as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years followed by a 14-year ministry as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky.