Most of the movie Phantasm was not worth watching but there was one true statement in it that stood out to me:
Like cancer spreading through a healthy body, small towns are dying and vanishing.
When I drive from Highland, KS to Denver, CO on Highway 36 you pass dozens, if not a hundred, rotted, boarded up ghost towns. In some places you can go more than a 100 plus miles and never see a functioning gas station, but pass by a dozen or more closed ones.
America has become a nation of nomads, who travel from one suburb to another chasing jobs and ever new shopping experiences. The small towns that our forefathers sweat, bled, and toiled to build and just 20 years ago were vibrant and filled with the noise of kids and dreams, have become the rest homes of farmers and widow women. Churches that remain open in these towns have become seas of grey hair. Evangelism many times is reduced to Sunday dinners and the funding of distant urban ministries.
Ancestral lands are an alien concept to Americans. Working to build communities is retranslated into a temporary membership - not a lifetime commitment to build and invest in blood and trade for the entire family. We have no concept of land as our inheritance. America has successfully eliminated all cultural and familial traditions, hereditary lands, and commitment to previous or future generations. All commitments now are focused on this generation.
So where as churches planted elsewhere in the world that existed for hundreds sometimes thousands of years, churches in the United States average two or three generations then dry up and die.
So when one comes into these small rural or even small urban churches, one has to come in with eyes wide open to the fact that many of these churches cannot be restored to their former glories, because the area are being depopulated.
In Highland Kansas, we have ten church buildings. Including the first African American church in Kansas. Only two of those buildings are still churches. The one I serve averages 50 to 100 a week (with no teens or college kids whatsoever). The other functioning church in town has 6 members left. Many of the towns around the nation are just like this.
My point to the whole long diatribe: a good pastor sometimes has the tough job of being chaplain to a town. His ministry may be to serve as an end of life counselor to the town and the church. Such pastors have to come to grips with the fact that the town is dying and so are the churches in it and it is not his fault. It is simply what American culture has created, a nation of disposable cities, churches, and families. The Norman Rockwell myth we tell ourselves about Mayberry just is not true. So we must gird up our minds and hearts like Abraham, Moses, and Joshua. We must either accept the reality that we will serve small churches in dying towns or we must be willing to follow the masses to minister to where the people have moved to.
Rev. J.B. Skaggs is the pastor of Highland Christian Church, Highland, Kansas. He has a heart for small towns, evens ones that have rapidly aged and seen better days.