Reaching Rural America with the Gospel
When I talked to a few frustrated rural pastors, at the heart of their frustration was the sense that because there was not a large influx of people coming into their community, there were not many ministries to do. What is needed is an attitude adjustment. Sometimes out of our most desperate situations comes the most significant opportunity for creative thinking. Like in the illustration below:
The Irish Potato Famine (1846-1851) resulted in a 30 percent drop in the population of the west of Ireland. In addition, the prolonged suffering of the Irish peasantry had broken the survivors in body and spirit.
John Bloomfield, the owner of Castle Caldwell in County Fermanagh, was working on recovering his estate when he noticed that the exteriors of his tenant farmers' small cottages had a vivid white finish. He was informed that a clay deposit on his property was outstanding. To generate revenue and provide employment on his estate, he built pottery in the village of Belleek in 1857. The excellent clay yielded porcelain n China translucent with a glass-like finish. It was worked into traditional Irish designs and was an immediate success.
Belleek's sheer strength and iridescent pearlized glaze have enthusiastically been purchased worldwide. This multimillion-dollar industry arose from innovative thinking during some very anxious times.
Do not see that lack of people as a disadvantage but as an opportunity to think creatively about caring for the people in your midst. Here are two key ways to be a blessing in your community.
1. Love, nurture, and mentor the young people
Young people are essential in any community; however, in rural communities, they occupy a special place precisely because many of them will leave. Churches know that they have them for only so long, and they are highly valued. Often, they are feared as they go. Some pastors hesitate to invest heavily in young people knowing that most will not stay long-term in the church, but this is a severe mistake. Rural churches need a deep conviction that they are called to prepare and send out healthy, integrated, dynamic Christian young people. Any minister who prioritizes this will be loved and respected by families and the youth in a country church.
2. Establish and support a pastoral care ministry team
Country people relate to each other between Sundays far more than urban people. They regularly meet while shopping, working, socializing, and even driving. As a result, they know what is happening in others' lives to a significant and surprising extent. This is both a disadvantage in terms of gossip and an advantage in terms of care and support.
Pastoral care brings a noticeable connection to rural people's lives. It builds community. Get a caring team of people mobilized to respond pastorally and practically to the congregation's needs. Rural people, even the unchurched ones, are used to looking to the church for help when urban people typically find it in other places. A critical pastoral window of opportunity is 'crisis.' Country people rally at a crisis. Like when a farmer is hurt, neighbors come out of the woodwork to help. If someone's home burns down, a child is seriously injured in an accident, or a mother becomes ill, the love and support in those communities are inspiring. This is a central part of the rural/small-town spirit to do whatever you can to be there and help when professional assistance may be out of reach or hours away. Right there, in the heart of the community's response, the minister sends a key message of care and support to the community. People notice who turns up and stays away when the chips are down. Helping at these times breeds a deep sense of loyalty from country people. Crises are potent ways to connect right into the core of rural families in a way country people understand and appreciate.