In my previous posts I explained how technology has changed rural communities by bringing postmodern ideas and people into rural areas. These postmodern ideas are a new challenge for the rural church to grapple with. Rural churches can reach postmodern people by capitalizing on four reliable practices, each of which I deal with in separate blog posts. I have already addressed how churches can use technology to promote their regular activities to newcomers to the area and how churches can allow outsiders to use their building for various ceremonies so long as they do not violate the church's theology. In this post I will address how the church can take advantage of their physical location in order to reach people who have moved into their area.
Many rural churches have a choice and advantageous physical location, such as at the center of the community or at a major crossroads. These rural churches will have a distinct advantage over other rural churches do not enjoy such a great location. Those churches that are not in a choice location often were built at a time in which there were a small number of large families living in that particular area. The location was chosen more for convenience of those particular families than for the community as a whole. As the size of the American family has gone down, churches in less advantageous locations may find there is not much of a community left from which to draw. Such churches may have to consider relocating to a better location or merging with another congregation that is already in a more advantageous location. That is an emotional decision to make, but rural churches in such difficult locations must ask themselves if the church is for their own enjoyment or for the expansion of the Kingdom. If it is about expansion of the Kingdom, then sacrifice may be required in order to follow God's plan for reaching a community for Christ.
Those churches that do find themselves in a choice and advantageous physical location should use that location as an advantage. The building should look good from the road. Keep the grass mowed and plant some flowers around the front door. Make sure the paint is not peeling off and that it looks like someone actually cares about the building. If the church facility looks unkempt, then sophisticated postmodern people will drive right by.
The church sign should be easy to read and have the main service times prominently displayed. There is a small church in the town in which I live which is on a main road and has a very nice size piece of property. Without question, it is in a prime location. But the small painted sign is faded and hard to read. It does not list the time for the worship service, only the name of the church and the denomination to which the church belongs. I have lived in this area for over 16 years and their sign has always looked like that. I often wonder how they expect newcomers to show up if they do not even know what time the worship service takes place. Knowing what time the main services are scheduled is much more important to postmodern people than denominational affiliation. Postmodern people seldom care what the denominational affiliation of the church is. This does not mean that a church should give up or hide such an affiliation, it simply means that having the denominational name in huge letters on the sign will not draw as many postmodern people as the time of the worship service will. Likewise most postmodern people will not be moved by descriptive phrases about the church that are on the sign. Even the pastor's name in large letters on the sign is unlikely to attract people as much as the time of the upcoming church dinner or the youth rally or a special concert. Churches might consider buying a banner to hang from their sign to promote special events. Using a sign well and having a building that looks good from the road will catch the attention of those who have moved to a rural area and are looking for a place to connect with others.
Churches that fail to capitalize on their location will struggle to attract new people. Churches that learn to use their location to their advantage will find it easier to reach newcomers to the community. A good location is not a guarantee of success in reaching new people moving into rural areas, but if used well, it can be a huge help.