By Thom S. Rainer
The obituaries of rural and small-town churches are premature.
Indeed, we continue to see clear evidence of hope and promise for both the churches and the communities. While the need is still great in the cities and more urban populations, we cannot ignore God’s work and opportunities in less populous areas.
What is taking place to give us such optimism and hope? Allow me to share five reasons. I must admit I was surprised at some of the research I found on this topic.
- The migration trend from these less populated areas has reversed. There seems to be conventional wisdom that people are fleeing rural areas. There is a good reason for this perception. It indeed has been a negative trend for decades. But did you know the trend has reversed? Did you know the rate of decline in rural populations began reversing in 2011? Did you know the population in rural areas actually began increasing in 2016? This development is huge and should not be ignored by church leaders, denominations, and networks!
- There are a lot of people in rural and small-town areas. The population number depends on how you define rural and small town. If you include any areas under 2,500 in population, there are 60 million people living there. That is a huge mission field that cannot be ignored.
- More church leaders are expressing a calling to rural churches and small-town churches. Though our data is anecdotal, we have confidence we are seeing a trend. We began to notice it more in our conversations with Gen Xers and Millennials, but we are seeing this trend even among older Boomer pastors today. Much like the move to replanting and revitalization, we are seeing a calling among these leaders to become a part of these churches and communities.
- More church leaders are serious about rooting themselves and their families in these communities and churches. Part of the calling we are hearing is a desire to establish roots in these less populated areas. For many decades for many leaders, these churches were perceived more as stepping stones to the next opportunity. This attitude is shifting. The metaphor is changing from steppingstones to roots.
- The simpler life of rural or small-town areas is becoming increasingly attractive to many people, including church leaders. Simply stated, many people are weary of the frenetic pace and cluttered life often emblematic of more densely populated areas. There is a desire to return to the basics of an uncluttered life. Church leaders are among those seeking this life balance.
The revitalization and replanting movement is growing. Among those churches in this growing movement are churches in rural churches and in small towns. It is an incredible thing to watch.
God has not given up on rural and small-town churches. We shouldn’t either. Let me hear from you.