Do you have suggestions for evangelism in rural America?
May 4, 2011
Updated November 23, 2011
3 comments 482 views
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 know a family or no one knows their family. I've also learned that gossip spreads like wildfire and can create barriers in connecting people to the church.
God is at work here, I know that for certain, and the Devil doesn't like it. Yet, what I find interesting is that those who either don't have the family connections to this place or have bad gossip spread have been coming in to visit. It is interesting to see the reactions from some members.
Here is what I've been doing and please feel free to add to or suggest different ways
1. Authenticity. I am authentic in all that I do. Either getting my mail at the post office, getting groceries at the corner market or having coffee with retired farmers at the coffee shop in the morning. I am my self, I do not hide who I am from them. I'm also authentic in worship as well. I desire that when they leave church they may say that they encountered God there.
2. Preaching to reach. I use every day language and even at times if need be, incorrect grammar. I use big theological ideas and concepts without using big theological words. I find what examples I can around me to convey the Gospel message. Never assume that because it is a church that has been here for what seems forever that they all know the Gospel. Preach it to reach them. Good ol' fashioned Gospel preaching never hurt anyone.
3. Be visible. I'm visible in the coffee shop doing my sermon work, talking with people. I walk through town, I wave at everyone. I learned this method from Youth For Christ. Learn their names, be visible and just wave and smile. You'd be surprised how people will come and talk with you after a while.
4. Pray. Pray hard. Pray like you've never prayed before. Pray until you're exahusted from praying and then pray some more. Pray whenever you hear bad gossip about someone. Take a moment and pray with someone who is talking with you. But pray.
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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.
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.
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?
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