Three Challenges of Rural Church Planting

   While there are many challenges to planting churches, the rural setting certainly offers some unique ones. I will speak about a few here, though I know there have been many more that we have identified along our personal journey. I must also note that I personally live in a rural setting, so this is as much of an indictment on reaching me personally as it is the rest of my rural neighbors.

1) Not being a cult

   This sounds like a theological warning, but it is nothing of the sort. If you are reading this, I am assuming you have fleshed out enough orthodox theology to identify basic heresy in your own teaching. Instead, this challenge calls out the perception of anything new in a small town. Established churches often become fixtures of a community, and even if they have a terrible reputation, they are generally regarded as bastions of basic Christian doctrine with the appropriate and allowed denominational idiosyncrasies.

   Then comes the new church.

   It meets in a school cafeteria or a store front and starts talking about reaching all types of people, and immediately the fraud detectors go up in the mind of the rural skeptic. These well-meaning citizens have either been burned by false teachers before that moved in and promised something that never panned out, or they have such a high respect for the established religious powerhouses of the community (regardless of whether they attend or not) that they immediately label you and your work a fishy enterprise. Your task as a church planter is to confront this with prayer, solid and open theological teaching that makes your stances clear, and blatant transparency. Show and tell people what you are all about. Like any relationship, it will take time for your new church to gain trust in the community, but it is worth the investment to avoid the deadly label of would-be cult in a small town.

2) Leaving people alone while still sharing the Gospel

   Most people living in rural America (myself included) take being left alone seriously. The only thing that outnumbers the dogs in their yard are the guns in the house, and both are a well-known warning to all salesmen, thieves, and girl scouts that their services would be more appreciated elsewhere. As a church planter [that values your life], you will need to honor this to some degree. However, you must also reconcile this isolationism with the commandments and commissions of Christ to “go and tell.”

   Some urban methods will not work in the rural setting. For example, there is not an overwhelming or natural desire for social space in most small towns. People are often too busy working or simply do not find themselves sitting in a coffee shop waiting on a Gospel conversation (we do not have a coffee shop at all in fact). You must earn their trust by showing up in their lives and building real relationships outside the church in other ways. One simple way is to shop local. Don’t drive to Lowes for a 2x4 if the local building supply has what you need. If they won’t match the price (which ours does), the extra dollar will be worth the investment in the end anyway.

3) Reintroducing people to church

   Finally, the vast majority of people in rural Midwestern and southern America specifically, have some impression of the church from their past since there is a church on almost every corner. And as you guessed, this is often a bad impression. Our job is to gently reintroduce them to a Jesus that they THINK they have figured out, and help them come to see him for who He really is. If we can lovingly allow people the space to heal from a lifetime of interaction with poor ambassadors for Christ, we can change our communities into places that boldly proclaim the Truth of a just, compassionate, and loving God once again.


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