Urban v. Rural Churches

If cooking slowly and growing organically are in, why is rural ministry out? That’s the title of a fantastic article by D.G. Hart voicing concerns regarding the trend of evangelicals overlooking small town and rural churches in America. If you have a choice between reading my post and that article, read that article.

This article helped me to put my finger on a characteristic of wildly popular urbanite pastors that I have yet to totally buy into. This characteristic is a very strong love for cities. Now there is definitely nothing wrong with loving a city – I love cities (Philly and NYC especially). But what I don’t love is loving city ministry at the expense and disparagement of rural churches. Twenty-something white middle class Christian college students go on short-term missions trips to the inner city during their spring breaks. But how many do rural community outreaches in the U.S.? What about those in need of the gospel in small towns or agrarian regions? Not everyone can be called to minister to the cities (1 Corinthians 12), though I respect those who legitimately are. Likewise, those few called to the less cosmopolitan areas are not lesser members of the body.
I’m not saying cities don’t need help. They have more people than rural communities and are more densely populated, which means more people who need to be reached in a smaller area. What I am saying is that it is a false dichotomy to pit urban and rural churches against one another as better or worse. They are both equally valid regions to take the gospel to. But before everyone jumps on the city bandwagon (or the Africa bandwagon for that matter) we should look at where God has placed us right now, and do His work there. And we should do that work with all our hearts, not looking to the City or to the Dark Continent or to another location as our Holy Grail of missions work while overlooking the people in need in our own churches and on our own streets. I see this problem stemming back to a loss of a sense of vocation in Christian circles – or if it’s not lost, then a loss of emphasis placed on it.

If we want to go to a different location than our current place to minister, how can we expect to do a good job there if we overlook the opportunities God has put right under our noses? It’s easy to waste a perfectly good opportunity in our local community because we are chasing after God’s will of our next sexy or trendy ministry opportunity. Each church, as a part of Christ’s church, is called to be a missions outpost of sorts, to be salt and light to the world just as individual Christians should be salt and light in whichever vocation God currently has them. An insular church is just as wrong as a church with no concern for its own people and community.

I’m not exactly sure why rural churches have fallen out of favor (the word “pastor” even has agrarian roots!). It could be because rural churches are lumped into the stereotype that they are old, stodgy, technologically ignorant, and boring. Or because pastors fresh out of seminary don’t think they can support a family (or their student loans) on a rural salary. Or maybe it’s because rural communities don’t hold a candle to cities’ creativity, diversity, and opportunity for ministry – buzzwords and trendy things for white middle class twenty-somethings to gravitate towards. Or maybe it’s because young seminarians are trying to follow in the footsteps of their celebrity urban pastor role models (or trying to become the next celebrity pastor themselves?).
That said, I’ve never really had an opportunity to attend a truly rural church for any lengthy period of time. Up here in Reading, Pennsylvania, we are a hop, skip, and a jump away from agrarian-dominated Lancaster (Amish farmland). We have found a great church in Lancaster County in the tiny town of New Holland. This church plant (Covenant Reformed Church) has been ministering to Lancaster County for five years and is gospel driven, grace flavored, outreach centered, sacrament practicing, and fellowship oriented. Here is a rural church work beating rural stereotypes by being a faithful minister of Christ to the surrounding community. I’m not saying we’re better than you because we’re attending a rural church. What I am saying is that this is where God has placed us now, and I’m sure this new rural experience will be a uniquely rewarding one for us Pearces.

5 thoughts on “Urban v. Rural Churches

  1. Great post and good observations. I'm gonna check out that article. I've had related thoughts concerning the role of the family in the church, how separate families interact and how generations interact. Methodology of building the kingdom is what I'm thinking of and the environment that a large city creates for the church versus a more rural family oriented environment. Cities house more individuals and broken families. More converts that are individuals. Building a generational church with individuals vs. building a church with strong families. It's ultimately all God honoring ministry. But the shift is maybe symptomatic of a shift in individualistic and intellectual based conversion. Let me know if you can make sense of what I just wrote. I'm saying your article was thought provoking.

  2. How do you define rural? I would consider anywhere in New Jersey outside the greater Newark or Camden areas rural, but I think you may have different standards. Would you consider Hackettstown OPC a rural church?

  3. Hackettstown is not small. Montrose is small and in a lot of ways needs so desperate outreach. I like what you have to say here, Joel. I get blindsided by these movements…I think "I haven't thought of that, oh no, I'm totally not ministry minded or sharing the gospel with the right groups." So often I feel like groups are telling me that I'm narrow-minded, but I think that being "city-focused" is narrow-minded.


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