The Challenges and Hope of Small Rural Churches
The Challenges and Hope of Small Rural Churches

By Michael C. Mack

It’s no secret that many small churches, especially small rural churches, face numerous challenges. How will the church respond? I asked Jerran Jackson—who for 40 years has served Clarksburg (Indiana) Christian Church, a small, rural congregation—to lead a team of writers to provide analysis, stories, and recommendations.

As Jerran and I planned the package of articles, “The Challenges Facing Small Churches,” we discussed a list of issues leaders in struggling churches may be facing. You might use the following questions based on those issues as discussion starters with your team; each is addressed in the articles:

1. What is God trying to teach us at this time in our church’s history?

2. If we’re failing to maintain, what must we change?

3. Which of our elders could lead our church if they received extra training?

4. Where is training available for bi-vocational ministers?

5. With whom could we consolidate or share a minister?

6. What would becoming a satellite campus of a larger church entail?

7. What positives in our history can we build upon?

8. Who is in our community, and how can we connect with them?

9. How can we help people in our community?

10. How are we publicly honoring our minister?

11. How can we promote Christian ministry as a career?

12. How can we raise up small-church ministers?

All these questions are significant, but the last two are vital. Where will future leaders for our smaller churches, especially those in rural areas or small towns, come from? At one time our Bible colleges sent many young men to these churches, but today, for various reasons, that’s not happening.

In July, I attended the Hillsboro (Ohio) Family Camp. Dave Jones, evangelist at Millwood Church of Christ in Howard, Ohio, spoke on the responsibility churches have to raise up young men to preach. He told the story of a person asking a Bible-college president why our colleges do not produce more preachers. “We can only teach what you send us!” the president responded. Our churches need to be encouraging young men and sending them to our Bible colleges to be prepared, says Jones. When you see potential in a young man, tell him, “I think you could be a preacher.”

Some small and rural churches are making remarkable strides despite the challenges. In our five church spotlights, we tell compelling stories of small and very small churches that are reaching lost people, changing lives, and making an impact in their communities in Jesus’ name. These churches also provide good examples for other churches to look to for hope and ideas.

I noticed several values worth considering in these stories. These churches . . .

— take risks—they have an unshakable faith that God can do anything, even the seemingly impossible.

— are willing to do big things, even though they are small in number and often in a small community; Reclaim Christian Church in Ansonia, Connecticut, a church of 65 at the time, for example, held an outreach event that required 100 volunteers, and they reached 3,600 people!

— have made healthy transitions from older to younger preachers—in several cases the former preacher has continued serving in another role.

As the introduction to “The Challenges Facing Small Churches” puts it, “There is hope, but we must not ignore the problem.” I pray the articles in this issue will bring hope . . . and a sense of urgency to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”

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