One of the hardest things about being a part of a rural church is engaging in mission. You know you’re supposed to and you actually want to, but where do you start? It’s not the same as our brothers and sisters who live and minister in cities, where neighbors are five feet away. In a city there can be thousands of people in the same space that encompasses one family farm. How then do we expand the Gospel in such a spread-out setting?
Before I entered into full-time ministry, I was music teacher at a local school district that was in a rural community. I grew up in a small city only fifteen minutes away from the school, but the cultures were extremely foreign to me. I wasn’t prepared for the different events and perceptions that came with rural life. There was a “drive your tractor to school” day, a week of animals being stored in the school’s bus garage, and I would inevitably be late to work in the fall because harvest season would fill the road with farm equipment.
I also wasn’t prepared for a culture change when my first full-time ministry position was at a church in a village of a few hundred people. It was a tough learning curve to adjust my strategy of mission to such a different context, but over time I found a few things that were extremely helpful to reaching out to those who don’t know Christ. Here are three simple ways to engage with people you don’t know:
- Gathering Places – Look for the existing gathering places and events of the community. Usually these will be the school, the post office, and maybe a mom and pop restaurant. The post office in our church’s village was closed because it was too small, which took away one of the primary chatting spots. Other places may be a park or a farmer’s co-op.
- Affinity Groups – These are groups that gather because of common interests. Normal ones might be gardeners, runners, and bikers. In smaller villages and rural counties, there are more people in political positions such as township trustees, soil and water conservation committee, and the village council. Farmers and handy men tend to find places to gather to chat and drink coffee.
- Just Stop By – There’s a culture present in a rural community that allows people to stop by each other’s homes a bit more easily then in a city setting. I’ve encouraged people that if they see someone out in front of their house as they’re driving past to go ahead and pull in and say hello. Make it a habit to look for those opportunities as you are going from place to place.
Being on mission in a rural church may be a bit more challenging, but it certainly is doable, especially if you take time to reflect on the culture around you.
What about you – what ways have you found to be on mission in a rural church?