Thursday, August 2, 2012

Rural Church Planting

There is much being written about church planting in urban and suburban areas but few helps exist for rural church planting. The following outline was from a break out session I led at the Send North America Conference held in July 2012 at First Baptist Church of Woodstock, Georgia.

To gain a good grasp of rural church planting, we must first understand the Stereotypical Rural Community. Typically, in rural communities:
                  Everyone knows everyone and there are lots of connections through school, church, and community organizations.
                  Many people are related by blood or marriage to a significant portion of the local population.
                  Rural communities often have low levels of racial diversity.
                  Everyone knows the unofficial rules of how to get things done.
                  Often more conservative politically than urban areas.
                  More respectful of religion in general, though not everyone goes to church.
                  Lower crime rate than urban areas.
                  Often have a lower educational level than the national average.

However, rural communities are rapidly changing and the old stereotypes are not as accurate as they once were. Though the stereotypes can still be found, they are increasingly the minority culture in rural areas.
                  As well educated and politically active families have grown frustrated with urban life and disenchanted with suburban sprawl, they are increasingly moving to rural areas.
                  Sometimes native people who once lived in the area move back with new ideas.
                  With the advent of technology, people can now live anywhere and keep the same job they used to have to live in the city to get.
                  But it is not just these “outsiders” who are changing the nature of rural communities.
                  That same technology has brought the ideas of the world to rural communities.
                  Rural teenagers can now be just as connected and up to date on music, clothing styles and ideological concepts as their urban counterparts.
                  Rural adults are now being exposed to more progressive ideas and concepts than ever before and some of them are buying into these new ideas.

How Do These Changes Impact Rural Church Planting?
                  The influx of new people and ideas is rapidly transforming the rural mindset into a more postmodern way of thinking.
                  Postmodernism is the idea that individuals have both the intelligence and the right to decide what truth is without any objective standards.
                  Postmodernism is built on a person’s individual experiences and relationships. It does not care about absolute truth.
                  However, many postmodern people are actually interested in learning about spirituality, they just want to do it on their own terms. To learn more about how to reach postmodern people, consider reading my book, Mission Possible: Reaching the Next Generation through the Small Church.
                  Though we do not have to give up our biblical values to reach postmoderns, we may have to change some of our man-made traditions.
                  Many existing churches will struggle with giving up their traditions, which is why rural church planting is so important.

Suggestions for How New Churches Can Impact Rural Communities More Effectively:
1.               Embrace technology
2.               Embrace bivocationalism and lay ministry
3.               Embrace racial diversity
4.               Use existing church buildings when possible
5.               Get outside the walls of the church into the community

1. Embrace technology
                  Postmodern people are more “virtual” than ever before.
                  That means they often socialize via technology more than in person.
                  New churches in rural areas must discover how to use Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, blogs, websites and other technological innovations. People no longer look in the “yellow pages.”
                  Embrace technology in public worship services without losing the sacred aspect of church.
                  Invest in a projector and screen but also learn to light a candle and say the Lord’s Prayer or quote Psalm 23.
                  Merging technology with ancient liturgy appeals to postmoderns, especially when we explain the meaning behind the rituals.

2. Embrace bivocationalism and lay ministry
                  Funding for rural church planting is going to be diminished in the future for a variety of reasons.
                  Therefore, to have sustainable church plants we must accept the reality of bivocational ministry and lay ministry.
                  The great challenge of bivocational ministry is burn out.
                  The key way to help bivocational church planters avoid burn out is to help them learn the art of delegation from the very beginning of their ministry. To learn how to train lay people to accept the duties that the pastor may need to delegate to them, consider by book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church.
                  God NEVER intended for the pastor to do all the ministry on his own! Shared leadership is NORMAL in the church – Acts 13:1-3, 2 Timothy 2:1-2

3. Embrace racial diversity
                  Though established churches in rural areas may resist reaching out to people of other races, new churches in rural areas should consider being a multi-racial church from the start, especially if we want to reach a younger audience.
                  Do not misunderstand, there are places where “ethnic” church planting is essential because of language barriers.
                  But rural areas may not have enough of any particular group to create a stable base for an ethnic church.
                  Also, many second generation ethnic groups are less interested in a church that is focused on only one ethnicity.
                  Therefore, we need some new churches that embrace multi-ethnic values from the very start.

4. Use existing church buildings when possible
                  A growing number of rural churches close each year. These buildings can often be acquired for very little money and need only minor renovations, so it is relatively inexpensive.
                  Many unchurched people see a church building as the “place” where weddings, funerals, Christmas Eve services, etc., are held, therefore, when they look for a place to hold such a ceremony, they look for a “church” building.
                  Providing religious ceremonies for postmodern people to participate in is very important to helping them feel like they belong.
                  Postmodern people want to “belong” before they “believe.”
                  This does not mean they want to join the church organizationally, it means they want to feel a part of the group relationally.
                  Make sure the building looks good from the road.
                  Make sure the sign is easy to read and has the main service times and phone number prominently displayed.
                  Most postmodern people do not care about the church’s denominational affiliation, or the pastor’s name, or highly religious descriptive phrases.

5. Get outside the walls of the church into the community
                  Practice the faith outside the building that is preached inside through being involved in community organizations and activities that address real community needs.
                  Show Christian love through compassion ministries to the hungry, homeless and hurting. This is what postmodern people think Christians are supposed to do, so do it!
                  Recover personal evangelism through sharing our own difficulties in life and how our faith gave us hope instead of just giving a religious sales pitch. To learn how to find home in the midst of adversity, consider my book, Malachi: Finding Hope in the Midst of Adversity.
                  Work hard outside the church to let the community know anyone is welcome to attend any church services or activities regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof.

Rural Communities are changing rapidly and since many existing churches will be unable to adapt to those changes, we should plant new rural churches that:
                  Embrace technology
                  Embrace bivocationalism and lay ministry
                  Embrace racial diversity
                  Use existing churches buildings when possible
                  Get outside the walls of the church into the community


  1. Good article, Terry. In painting the picture(always changing) of rural America, it's as if we have to have two graphs from Windows at the same time---the one where the different shades are in well-defined hexagonal blocks AND the one where one color blends into the next. This is probably the only way to gauge the many, many different locales of rural America, yet still grasp each locale's individuality, which we must do, no matter how much diversification occurs(at least for now).

  2. Thanks Kenny. And you are right, rural America is always changing but the Gospel can overcome any change, for it is the power of God for salvation.

  3. What great thoughts! As a rural church planter and small church advocate I have seen every one of these dynamics in action. Thank you for hitting the nail on the head!
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  4. Brother Reed,
    Thanks for the encouragement. Keep planting those rural churches and advocating for small churches, we need your voice!


  5. good post. I really want to get together and pick your brain, especially as we look to plant in a small old mill town next year

  6. Nathan,
    Let's get together soon. Be glad to offer any light to your situation that the Lord gives me.

  7. Especially like the part about getting out into the community. I have noticed that yo be especially true as we are getting out to more and more events here in hubbardton. Those events are proving more valuable than what happens inside the walls of our church on Thursday evenings at our worship.

  8. You have GREAT stuff. Wish NAMB would use you more. But I guess you are not "famous" enough.

  9. Three people asked me for these notes today. So I have re-tweeted the link out to my network.