By Jonathan Davis, Small Town Churches Network
While the cultures may be vastly different, rural churches seemingly face similar challenges across international, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines.
So, what needs arise in rural communities the world over? Here are four emerging needs that rural churches will do well to address:
- The need for technology and infrastructure. Many times rural communities are the last to receive technology and infrastructure upgrades. Cities receive more infrastructure and development because they have larger populations, and consequently, the gap between wealth in the city and poverty in the countryside often widens.How can churches speak to this reality and give voice to the need for wise regional planning, the fair treatment of rural people, and the stewardship of resources?
- The need for sustainability. In many ways, rural communities are better positioned to lead on the issue of sustainability than urban ones. Since urban planners often ignore rural needs in regional planning strategies, rural communities increasingly must consider sustainability in terms of self-reliance. For the most isolated towns and villages this, of course, is nothing new.
- Because of farmers markets, farming co-ops, and other programs, rural people can very easily buy fresh local produce nearly year round.
- Rural people are more likely to have space for their own personal garden thereby decreasing household food costs and the need to ship in produce from other regions.
- Rural people have more natural resources at their disposal than city people, including the ability to hunt, harness solar and wind energy, and more land to grow crops or livestock.
- Rural people can often work under the radar in alternate bartering economies. For instance, someone might trade regular haircuts for vegetables, or home craftsmanship for heating fuel.
How can your church speak to the important issue of rural sustainability in the 21st century? What would it look like for rural churches to foster a sense of sacred community
- The need for social services. A report on rural homelessness was released last week for my region of Virginia. In rural Virginia, lagging economies and outdated technology and infrastructure make for fewer stable jobs. Those facing emergencies or crisis in rural counties have fewer agencies to turn to for assistance than their urban counterparts. Homelessness is not exclusively an urban problem, and providing people with emergency assistance and education can make an incredible difference.How can your church help bring awareness to the issue of rural homelessness? What does “love of neighbor” and of “the least of these” look like in your county?
- The need for partnering with other organizations. My strong belief is that when we work together in ministry, all of our churches are stronger. The Middelsex County Minister’s association is hosting a community Bible study series this fall on racial reconciliation. Alone, it would be hard for a single church to offer such a Bible study (from a leadership-capital perspective).What kinds of ministry can your church do only when partnering with other organizations and churches? What kind of shared ministry strategy might develop if churches in your region worked together?
No matter the location, the four needs mentioned above play out in rural communities everywhere. I believe if people of faith think theologically about these needs, that beautifully creative ministry can emerge. Isn’t that the point of incarnational living? How do the above needs impact your rural community? What needs would you add? I look forward to our conversation below!
Jonathan Davis pastors Urbanna Baptist Church, in Urbanna, Va. He is a doctor of ministry candidate at Logdson Seminary, where his research focuses on equipping small-town churches for 21st century ministry. He is the founder of the Small Town Churches Network (www.smalltownchurches.org), which is dedicated to sharing research, ideas and tools to help small-town churches. Follow him on Twitter @jonathandavis_.
The Center for Lifelong Learning (CLL) at Columbia Theological Seminary is excited to presnt Change, Organization, and Generosity in Smaller Congregations (Smaller Churches Seminar 2015). This energetic and creative learning event will take place at the CLL on November 3-5, 2014. For a complete program description and to register, click here.