In the stereotypical rural American community everyone knows everyone and there are lots of interpersonal connections through school, church, and community organizations. In those types of communities, it is common for many people to be related by blood or marriage to a significant portion of the local population. All the natives know the unofficial way of how things get done, which usually has a lot more to do with who you know than any official policies and procedures. Such communities are often more conservative than urban areas. Such communities are normally more respectful of religion in general, though not everyone goes to church. Such communities are normally more Caucasian than urban areas, have lower crime rates and frequently have a lower educational level than the national average. This is the stereotype many people have of rural American communities and, in the past, many aspects of that stereotype were probably accurate.
However, rural American communities are rapidly changing. Though the rural stereotypes can still be found, they are increasingly the minority culture in rural areas. As well-educated and socially active families have grown frustrated with urban life and disenchanted with suburban sprawl, they are increasingly moving to rural areas. Sometimes they are people who once lived in the area who have now moved back. But more often they are urbanites seeking to escape all the problems of urban living. With the advent of computer and Internet technology, urbanites can now live anywhere and still have the same income level they once had to live in the city to attain.
But it is not just the newcomers who are changing the nature of rural communities. The same technology that made it possible for outsiders to move in has also brought the outside world to rural communities. Rural teenagers can now be just as connected and up to date on music, clothing styles and philosophical concepts as their urban counterparts. Rural adults are now exposed to more progressive ideas and concepts than ever before and some of them are buying into these new ideas.
Rural areas have traditionally been the strongholds for religion and faith in American life. But how do these changes in the rural community impact the local church? I will address the impact of these cultural changes on the rural church in my next blog post.