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Going Deep in the Pastorate

In small-town and rural America, you not only serve your congregation, you serve the whole county you're in and sometimes beyond. Because rural people are so tied together and families are scattered here and there, every pastor ends up pastoring everybody...

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Next World Leaders in Your Small Church?

Dr. Ron Klassen wrote in his book No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church, "A disproportionate percentage of professional Christian workers, including as many as 80% of foreign missionaries, come from small churches...

Discussion Topic
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Rural Church Blogs

George McGuire has written several blogs on the topic of rural churches (and smaller ones) that may be of interest to pastors serving in out of the way places. You can find them when you sort by Author Name George McGuire .
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Jesus, Rabbi to Out-of-the-Way Places

Pick up a CRCNA Yearbook and among the familiar names you’ll find unknowns such as Terra Ceia, Woden, Prairie View, Austinville and more. Historically, we know how churches got planted in such places. But the question arises, “Would Jesus today go to minister in such out-of-the-way places?” If not, wouldn’t we be better off just closing down all those tiny churches...

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To the Least of These

If you minister where the most well-read news magazines are Progressive Farmer and the Farmers’ Almanac and not The New York Times, where you can't leave town without everyone knowing where you are headed, and where everyone knew your name before you ever arrived there, then this blog’s for you...

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Do you have suggestions for evangelism in rural America?

This is mainly a topic starter for rural churches in the States. I'm not sure how much this is similar to Canada, but I'd rather not assume. One of my passions and gifts is in evangelism. I've been used by God in many places in doing evangelism, training others in evanelism, etc. Yet, when I came out to rural America, I've found evangelism a bit harder than normal. I've learned that the stories in rural America stretch back generations, as do the memories. You don't just know a person, you know a family. And when new people move into town, it can be a bit hard if they don't know anyone or...

You could check out a book called "The Rural Pastor: Ten Things I Wish I had Known Before I Began Rural Ministry" by H. Andy Wiebe. You can find it at

Right on, George!

I well remember being the featured speaker at the high school athletic banquet about three months into my first pastorate.

A few weeks later I spoke to their grandmothers at the hospital auxilary.

In between I was at the hospital because a person I had never met was dying and he asked the nurse to "call a pastor".

In a rural/small town ministry a pastor is truly a pastor to everyone in the area, and there is something very rewarding about that.


Thank you for your post and great reminders!  Having served in one place for 15 years - in a rural context in the upper midwest in a community of 500 people - my heart resonantes with your findings.  With jovialness and lament, we often are reminded that "everybody knows everything about everyone" in a such a context.  But there is a unique foundation and faithfulness here you won't find anywhere else.  While it has its quirks, it has tremendous strengths.  I strongly concur - if you don't know this, try this.  

I think this is the best one yet! Without close relationships in our congregation and community, people will start just staying home and watching their favorite pastor online!! In a small church, if someone did this, they would get a phone call that afternoon checking to see if they were ill.  In a large church, no one would notice their absence.  


I grew up in a small church.  There were probably never more than 15 or 20 children, pre-school to high school.  As we grew up, we held the choir together; we taught Sunday School, Bible School, Bible clubs in open air, and in other ways learned the nuts and bolts of praise, worship, teaching and leadership.  We didn’t know about Dr. Klassen—he was long after our time; but his observation might have been made from us.  From our small group came two pastors, two international missionaries, a leader in Samaritan’s Purse, and a trained group of young adults who were ready to become leaders in their local churches.

SAMcGuire, Bourbonnais, Illinois

You're right on!!!!  Growing up in a small church, I was able to play the piano and serve in the nursery and teach VBS starting at 11 years old! Even young teens weren't spectators. What valuable experience I received and carry with me today. I was 15 years in a large church as a young adult, and it was sad for me to never see teens participating in music. The pianists were great and very professional, but the teens didn't have opportunities to serve. Does God want only professionalism, or willing servants? I think the latter.

I grew up in a small, rural church and I never thought it was "least". I'm so thankful that our pastor and elders didn't think it was "least" either. They led well and taught the Word- whether to 10 or to 50.  I grew by leaps and bounds spiritually. I was also able to use my gifts of music at a very young age by playing the piano or organ on Sundays- something I never could have done in a large church.  I'm thankful to have grown up in a small church and I'm thankful to be back in one!


Definitely! You've put your finger on why I feel so at home when I visit World Renew's field work. I grew up in a rural town, and most of World Renew's overseas work takes place in very rural places that many NGOs have not reached. It's amazing how similar the issues of the day are whether you are in rural Guatemala or Uganda or rural USA. 

That is awesome!!!  Thank You Jesus...

You're welcome. I'm glad something, at least, in my 'shot-gun' response stuck. (Oops mixed a metaphor there.)

BTW, last Sunday we had 11 people join our congregation including 5 baptisms: one infant, one 5 y/o, 3 adults (including one retired couple)! Two of the families got connected with us because of the train ministry. The retired couple came in part because of my work with the fire department, and in part because of my participation in a community response to a tragedy in our area (4 people murdered, 6 wounded by a mentally-ill, local man). Folks (locals, law enforcement, and others) came because they knew me in the community, or knew our church as a place that cares for our community.

It was an awesome service!


I think you have some great observations here. This goes way beyond what I was instructed to do which was just to love them and visit them. Thank you.

And you're right about the difference between towns. We have a number of business owners, teachers and blue collar workers in our church which greatly outnumber the farmers. And even the farmers aren't "simple dutch farmers" as they want you to believe but very savy business men who understand how the world works.

Hey Rich... welcome... good to see you on here... if you don't remember, I met you a prayer summit @ Cedar Springs a few years back...  great thoughts and insight... thx. for sharing...  

Hi Josh and others.

I just sort of stumbled on these forums and as a pastor of a small church for the last 15 years, I thought I'd jump in here. Maybe you're not paying attention to this thread anymore, but at least I'll have a place to gather some thoughts.

First, you're right that a small rural church is vastly different from a small urban or suburban church. I would also submit that a small midwestern church will be vastly different from a small west coast or east coast church (etc.). Finally, I'd suggest that a small rural farming community church will be different from a small rural working class church. This is all about culture, and we have to minister within the context of the culture we're in.

It might surprise some that not all rural churches are made up of farmers. My church has a few dairymen, but the vast majority work in or are retired from other area industries. It's very much a blue collar church.

One thing I'd suggest for a small town church or rural church pastor is to get involved with a community agency of some kind. I joined our local volunteer fire department and have found it to be a great way to hang around with people who, while not all Christian, enjoy helping people and playing with big-boy toys. ;-)  This has opened a lot of doors into the community for me, given me credibility with the unchurched, and has given our church a reputation of being with the community (not just in it - if you know what I mean).

Two big surprises for me are two ministries that I never thought would be anything but hobbies for those involved. The first is a theatre group started by a former Christian school teacher. We have an annual play, with a positive message, no foul language (etc.). It's become a ministry to actors and a way to meet more people in our community who come to see the plays. The second is a 7 1/2" guage train club. We have a few hundred feet of track and a train just the right size for giving rides to kids (of all ages). It was begun by a guy who loves trains and saw an unused area of property and asked if he could put a train there. This has become a train ministry, touching the lives of hundreds of people (when they go out to county fairs), and dozens here in our small town.

I was in another small church in Plain, WA (not CRC), who had a fishing ministry called "Family Lines." It was started by a guy who loved fishing and wanted to leverage his knowledge and experience into a ministry targetting family relationships (mostly father & son/daughter).

My point is that rural churches can do somethings urban & suburban churches can't do, but that these things are usually dependent on the interests of the folks who live there, and the willingness of the church to try something different, something that doesn't look very 'churchy.'

So another suggestion is to look at the hobbies of the folks in the church and brainstorm about ways to transform a mere hobby into a way to meet and interact with people. In a rural setting the best evangelism happens while doing something else (IMHO), letting the light of the Lord shine through in our everyday lives.

Another observation I have that distinguishes blue-collar communities from white-collar or college educated is this: college educated want to understand why it would work before trying it, blue collar folks just want to know if it will work or not, why is secondary (if not irrelevant). So, in my church, I don't need to explain social dynamics, psycho-social relationships and discuss trust-building before lauching a ministry designed primarily to interact with people. But I do need to convince them that just being a believer and living like one, while hanging around unchurched people, will make a difference in the lives of those unchurched folks, and that some of them will become believers because we've made friends with them.

It's also very helpful to create or nurture an atmosphere where it's okay to fail. One of my most helful phrases has become "Let's try it for a month and see what happens." Sometimes it doesn't work -- great! What did we learn? Sometimes it does -- great! Can we do it even better?

As far as teaching/preaching goes, in my experience and study, the NT was written by and for working-class folks, and they get it (if we don't muck it up too much with overly-subtle theological points). Don't underestimate their ability to grasp and live out the grand and glorious themes of Scripture. And when they get it, they're "all in." It's amazing.

Finally, I've found that it takes more than 10 years to be seen as part of the community, especially in small rural churches. Most pastors view a small rural church as a stepping stone in their career (I did too). So most members have learned to view their pastors as just passing through, not really invested in their church nor their community -- at least not as much as they are. Settling in for the long-haul with them is something they're not used to (usually). Some amazing things have happened here after 15 years, when my wife & I decided to buy land and build a house. "I guess you're planning to stay a while," folks said with a broad smile; and ministry has taken on a new depth. I wish I would have known earlier.

Hmm, this got longer than I first envisioned. Hopefully, it's helpful to someone.

Yup - same thing here. It seems like “church” is the add-on - the “thing” you do if you need help with your life. But, by-and-large, the concept of “being” the Church is pretty foreign. You will always have misconceptions of Christ and Church amongst unbelievers. But, having them among believers doesn't help.

Thinking of working to be a church-planting church. Lots of land out here - lots of opportunities. What could focus us better than having to help form one somewhere else?


I'd like to clairify a bit about YFC method I've been using. The only method from them is merley the passing through and saying hi to everyone and remebering names. The rest of the YFC, I agree, doesn't fully work in rural areas. But the act of being very present and and visible in the community has been quite effective.

Some of the factors that are also in play are that of families, sports, and farming. Time and responsibilities are not placed around that of church or one's faith but seems to be based upon those three. Where in many urban and suburban areas, the problem with many is being disconected. I believe an area that is hard for many, as you so aptly pointed out, is the over connectedness of people. Dutch Bingo is in overdrive. We even found a connection between my wife and a member of our congregation.

Another issue that you pointed out is that change is seen with suspicion and is slow. That is change forward. Yet negative change has been fast and ignored. Business shrink, main street loses more shops, the church itself has grayer hair and fewer children in youth group, yet that isn't seen as bad yet changes made to move forward can be.

I too have to set aside my own "city slicker" idols but also must discern which are idols and which aren't.

Hey, Josh. Good post.

I took a call to a rural church in southern Minnesota 6 mo. ago, and what you said up front about not knowing people – but families – is spot on. I think a lot of YFC (Youth for Christ – it rolls off your tongue if you've spent some time there) methods for evangelism are so individual-focused that they really lose functionality in a rural community. Here's what I've seen so far:

1) What works for teens in a more metro-based, disconnected social structure has little power "on the farm." Getting someone “alone” to consider what Jesus has done “for them personally” is, in many ways impossible because the community is so tightly interwoven – thought ‘outside’ of that community is often nigh to impossible. I have coffee in the same kind of café over here, with similar farmers and other regular customers. They are the parents and grandparents of my Catechism students. They are ALL connected (and re-connected) by blood, name, land and institution (church, Christian school, farm-support businesses, etc.) Nothing is decided without considering – in some way – the community values and expectations. Even the kids who have found homes and lives far away are marked by the choice to disassociate themselves from the community.

2) With that much value-based interconnectivity, change happens slowly, and suspiciously. The community methods of life and worship are gifts from one generation to another. They are comfortable and reliable. If they are deceptively comfortable as substitutions for a redemptive Gospel, then real Holy Spirit-empowered redemption can separate someone from their own community by a change in values. See point 1: separation from the community is difficult due to fear of the unknown.

Now, I'm not saying that everything in town is horrible. Both the RCA and the CRC here (they're about a block apart) have done good things to preach a redemptive Gospel. And, the above points are just earthly factors which the Spirit of Christ is not bound to respect. However, when the earthly factors are tallied up, it does seem like people in rural areas are more prone to keep their head down and trust that God loves them if they just keep working hard.

I thank God that this is not always the case.

I pray to God that I can preach and embody a redemptive Gospel that challenges those who need to be challenged.

I praise God for loving me – even when I've stacked up my own city-slicker idols in front of him.

Keep up the good fight, Josh.


Sorry for not responding earlier, been busier than a one armed paper hanger as of late. There are many challenges to rural ministry that not many books nor people have brought up (or I think are willing to bring up) and I'm a bit hesitant to bring up here on the open forum. Sufice it to say, I did come across a great book called Dakota: A Spiritual Geography which looks at the history of North and South Dakota through a spiritual lense and helps unpack the culture out this way.

Working in small churches throughout my seminary career and after seminary, I've learned that small suburban/urban churches are MUCH different than small rural churches. To simply state that the principles in using small church minstry ideas may be used in rural churches is a misnomer I believe. For example, in many small church books, they talk about how each person finds their niche in the church and usually defends it (which I've experienced persoanlly and have worked with). You step on some toes, you get some hurt feelings. In a rural church in a small town, you step on some toes, you can have half the town mad at you.

Many times in Rural towns, you're not just the pastor of the church, you're the pastor of the whole town. In towns that are the same size or smaller than moderately sized congregations in suburban/urban areas, it is not surprising that this is so.

Thank you for your prayers and suggestions.

Josh, How is the your church doing. We haven't heard anything from you for spell. Hope things are good and blessed.



Ken, Jeff Thank you


Found the link.  Do a search for "Rural Home Missionary Association".  The keynote speaker at their conference this year is Mark Dever.  Previous years keynotes have been Calvin Miller, HB London and Henry Blackaby. They also offer certification and specific training in town and country ministry. Hope this helps.


There are not many books on specifically rural ministry, however, if you do a search on amazon for smaller churches, you would come across many books which are applicable to rural ministry, whatever the size of your own church may be.  A very good one along these lines is "Small, Strong Congregations" by Kennon Callahan.

The Natural Church Development process, in which many of our home missions representatives would be familar with, is also helpful, and doesn't differentiate between rural/urban large/small churches.  Instead, it simply focuses on improving several "quality characteristics" of healthy churches. 

Also, I can't think of it's exact title now, but there is a good conference in Illinois for "Town and Country" churches and pastors, focusing specifically on the challenges and opportunities of rural ministry.

Anything you need Josh in your ministries I will try to help, Josh. Be it money,time or prayers. God has put this on your mind and you blessed me with your expression of desire to help rural churches.




I appreciate your comment on my post. I think it is very important to understand the dire need for good solid ministry in rural churches. Though there are some failings with the book (as there will be with all books on ministry) I feel the pros out weigh the cons.

I think there needs to be more books about good quality rural ministry. Rural churches are in need of great financial support, great encouragement from other churches and should be treated as a missoin field. There is a great mission field out in rural America that is being passed over.

This, I think, is to all who might read this: How can you support rural ministry with the same fervor you support missoinaries both home and abroad?

Hi Josh, Thanks for the review. You appear to be very perceptive, so what makes you think you need book on rural churches. If you are aware of failings in this book you reviewed, you probably prepared to be a condoit for Christ in most settings. Listen,look and feel for the Holy Spirits que's and you will have the decernment of profound wisdom. Incidently the reason you can't find more books on rural churches is probably due to lack of market. (Sad)

Kind of quick book review on Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O'Dell

The reason why I wanted to find a good book on rural ministry is that much of the advice I recieved from people was very unencouraging. Many people told me to just love them, get to know them, and visit the shut ins. That was it. Some even went so far as saying that I should just go there, wait a few years and then take a real church as my next charge. This did not satisfy me at all. To be honest, if I told someone that the best way to do ministry in urban chicago was to just love them, get to know them and visit the shutins, I'd be laughed at.

This is what the appeal was for O'Dell's Transforming Church in Rural America.

In his first chapter, he lays out the unwritten rules of rural ministry. These are that if you want a thriving ministry, go to major cities and suburban areas. If you want to be successful go to the city, rural churches get leadeship left overs, rural churches are where people go when they can't go anywhere else. He expresses the thought that many see rural areas as bakcwards, behind the times and not up to speed with the rest of the world.

He uses the illustration that when he accepted the call to a rural church at the exact same time a member of his large congregation had decided to go to rural Africa to do missoins work at an established mission. People raised a large sum of money for the missionary, put him on the prayer list and even had cards made out with his picture on it and where he was going. When O'Dell said he was going to rural america, to an established church in a town smaller than the one in rural Africa, he was laughed at.

O'Dell states that there is a vast untapped mission field in rural America

O'Dell lists a way to succeed in rural ministry using the acronym VALUE--Vission, Attitude, Leadership, Undestanding and Enduring Excellence. Much of what he suggests is very good and helpful. If we come into rural ministry with the idea to just love them, get to know them then the people will not grow in their faith and the lost will not be reached. He points out the fact that a church of 1,000 in a city of a million isn't being effective in ministry but a church of 300 in a town of 250 is reaching more percentage wise than a church in the city. O'Dell points out the fact that many people in rural communities have bought into the unwritten rules of rural ministry and only go after the leftovers not thinking they can do better. Instead, he encoruages rural ministry to show how they can be effective in their towns. There are many nonchurched, dechurched and nominal Christians in rural areas that are ignored because it is assumed there is no mission field in rural America.

Pros--O'Dell gives some good solid advice on how to do rural ministry effectively. He is very encoruaging in seeing the positive in the people and using people's business smarts towards church ministry. He also gives good suggestions in reaching out to those in rural areas.

Cons--He instructs the reader to get rid of all "sacred cows" of the church--pews dedicated to people dead over 50 years ago, programs that dont' work, etc. This can do more harm that good if it isn't done pastorally. He has the idea that you need to break a few eggs to make an omlette. He also has a top down leadership diagram where he chooses the leadership and not the church. This goes against Reformed church polity. The last two chapters read more like a brochure to join his satalite church minsitry rather than inspiring final words.

This was the only book I could find on that was about rural ministry in a serious way. Why is that?


I picked up a book just recently called Transforming church in Rural America by Shannon O'Dell.. haven't had a chance to read it just yet but I'm looking forward to it. I've added Pappas' book on my wishlist on It sounds interesting. I'll try to repost here later after I read O'Dell's book. Thanks for the suggestion and adding to the conversation. I hope more people post discussions here on rural church ministry.


One interesting one might be "Entering the World of the Small Church" by Anthony G. Pappas, put out by Alban Institute.  This would be helpful whether your rural church is small or not.  Pappas makes the point that entering into a rural church can be somewhat like a missionary or anthropologist entering a tribally structured society.  It's a little out of the box--makes you look at things with fresh eyes.


I dont have any good books on this topic, just my experience of ministry in a rural setting for the last 3 years. I am wondering how you would see differences in ministry? If you get to know the people and love the people, I would hope it wouldnt change from a urban to rural setting. For myself, I have tried to get to know what the people do. Even getting involved as much as I possibly can in their work as well. That is my approach. Learn a lot. I have learned a lot in three years. For me, I dont know if a book would be able to tell me how to do this, I just get out there and learn from the people. just my humble opinion.