Rural Church Growth

I’ve pastored a very rural church for well over a decade. Our town has about 1,000 people and will never grow until Jesus returns. 38 people attend our worship on Sundays. Here’s a quick list of what we’ve done to grow our church, and what I’ve done to survive pastorally.

  1. We’ve had evening worship services with other denominations, rotating them throughout the year. When you get your congregations together for worship, people will like you, but this has not grown our church. 
  2. Our Bible studies during the week has attracted many from surrounding towns. People love biblical depth, relevant insights, and closeness with others. They will certainly like our church, but even this has not grown our church.
  3. I’ve taught Bible at the local school. I did this officially for a while, now I just tell Bible history to the kids once a week. (By the way, never call it Bible “stories”! It’s real history, and kids always ask if a “story” is true.) Parents have greatly appreciated my teaching, and it’s been very rewarding, but this has not grown our church.
  4. VBS. We do a joint VBS with the local churches every summer. I’ve used it to capture the attention of ten-year-olds and fill them up with the Bible. We’ve had a host of kids come for VBS over the years, but this has not grown our church.
  5. The Town’s Pastor. The means everyone expects me to be there for them even though they have never come to church, nor will they care to. Many are not members of Christ’s body, but mosquitoes on His body sucking on the blood of the covenant when in dire need. Then they fly off. Nevertheless, you love them, and even after dying for them it will not grow your church.
  6. Coaching. I help coach T-ball, baseball, basketball, football. In a small town you have time for these finer things of life. You get to know families, children, and how messed up the world is! Then when you anger parents by not putting their child on All-Stars, it will certainly not grow your church.
  7. Nursing home. I’ve read the Bible with a group of elderly, but many have died off. It was very fruitful for them, butwould have never grown our church.
  8. Coffee.  For two years, once week I met old men in the morning for coffee and cursing (they cursed I didn’t).It was real world stuff, but never grew our church.
  9. Beer.  Now we have a winner! Many old men sit around close to the weekend just to drink together, resting from a week’s work. I join them. One husband now comes to church because I sat with him for two years drinking beer once a week.  He now remembers every sermon, and told all his friends to come hear me. A friend of his now comes with his grandchildren.
  10. Children. Even a better winner!! One family joined our church because their child is the same age as my child.

Others, I’m sure, have been more effective in rural ministry and would have better input of how to do it. But I’ve learned not do anything for the purpose of growing my church. If that was the purpose, I would have quit years ago.  Do it to save a soul.  Do it so that after your church dies, a gospel seed will sprout long after you’re dead. Forget church growth. Preach, teach, pray, learn a vocational trade on the side to enlarge your world, and create as much joy in your family as possible. Our church might grow, or die with the town. Maybe it’ll be better in 10 years. But all I know to do, is to make this the most joyful experience possible (Neh. 8:10).

Rural Pastor, USA