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2 Timothy 1:7 “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.”
Rural America: The Challenge of Renewal “Rural America" – The words alone conjure an image of a place unchanged, small towns, simple life, and a dedication to the values that made our country strong: faith, family, community. The attachment to tradition, the valuing of what is old over what is new, and a conviction that the rural way of life is far more preferable than the urban or suburban way of living.
Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America! It is estimated that there are more than 200,000 congregations serving rural America today! These churches have 7,153,937 congregants. For instance within my denomination of Southern Baptist there are 20,227 rural churches as reported during the last Church Membership Survey (CMS). If you count all protestant denominations the total adherents is 31.5 million members which attend a rural church.
Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America! The rural church in America in the twenty-first century must develop new relationships and new ways of doing things to ensure prosperous and socially healthy future. Tapping into the resourcefulness and creativity of the new rural (nu- rural) people will be essential in addressing this challenge. However, those returning to the rural landscape cannot do it alone. Those who have remained in the rural communities all of their lives must be open to ideas and opportunities to be a receptor of the new people coming to rural America.
Rural Descriptors Canadian R. Ale Sims utilizes a typology for identifying the shape and form of rural communities when he utilizes four descriptions to clarify the types of rural which exists: Ribbonville – These surround a city and often referred to as collar counties. Agravilles – These are the farm service towns where agriculture, forestry, or mining is the predominant industry. Mighthavebeenvilles – These are the small town hamlets just outside of the agravilles. These are often pastored by ministers just out of seminaries as a first place to serve and develop experience. Usually they are supported by another line of work and bivocational. Fairviews - These are the recreational amenities driven towns supported by the blessing of some sort of amenities' such as: Skiing, fishing, water sports, beaches, lakes, and retirement communities. Some are institutional towns where a college, prison, or military base is located and is the primary supporter of the economy.
Rural towns also conjure an image of intolerant communities, a lack of innovation and a dying way of life. These are the contradictions of rural America. Much of what rural America holds dear is widely accepted to be responsible for its decline. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
Making the Hard Call to Go Rural! Perhaps the most difficult hard call a minister can make is to consider becoming a rural pastor. (The issues in play here are obvious: lower financial support, little resources available, and a passivity in existence within most rural churches.) Practicing personal evangelism in an area where there is great need yet the present church may be unwelcoming on the new potential members of the church. (Change will take place within these churches and it is often a threat to long time stakeholder members.) Growth comes through intentional action in rural churches and it requires the pastor to be the chief initiator of the effort. Lack of participation by present members is often the churches initial response.
Making the Hard Call to Go Rural! Perhaps another challenge is to make the necessary changes in structure for the church to have the best chance of survival. (For more on this see Five Things Which Must Be Relinquished in a Revitalized Church by Tom Cheyney at: renovateconference.org/resources.) To engage new leadership while retiring those who are a hindrance to the churches future growth and mission. Making the shifts in the facilities which allow a new look and a new form while avoiding people showing you their deed to their favorite pew or hymnbook. Dealing with the lack of willingness to do something, anything really, to minster to ones community.
Making the Hard Call to Go Rural! Conflict resolution will be one of your greatest assets so get prepared for the journey. Change will give you the opportunity to practice this skillset often. Without change nothing is going to happen. Remember that you were CALLED to this ministry not hired! It will take time to become the churches real leader so watch out for the self-appointed one who is already in place. Will you operate more as the attending nurse meeting their wants or will you become the communities pastor? You just cannot settle if you are going to revitalize a rural church. Stay on the edge forget the recliner!
Rural America in the Twenty- First Century The overlapping forces shaping rural America with challenges and opportunities are: demographic transitions, economic changes, the legacy of chronic underinvestment in community institutions, and environmental factors
The rural church, while distinct in its mission and character, is not separate from the social and economic life of rural America. A synopsis of the trends and conditions in the countryside may prove helpful in understanding the current situation of rural churches. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
The simplest truth about rural America is this: the more rural a place is, the harder its circumstances are. The most remote and sparsely populated areas are more likely to be persistently poor, to be losing population, and to have an unskilled labor force on the losing end of the global economy. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
Beyond this simple truth, however, generalizations are deceptive. For every rural county that has lost population since 2000, there is another that has gained new residents. For every rural place that depends on an agricultural economy, there are six more in which manufacturing is the economic mainstay and two more in which federal or state government is the largest employer. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
Rural America is Undergoing the Mayberry Shake-Up
The challenge to rural America is to preserve itself as the repository of our nation’s traditional ideals while adapting to the realities of the 21st century. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
A New Image of Rural America Popular images of rural1 America are often based on outdated stereotypes that equate rural areas with farming. Though farming remains important in hundreds of counties, rural America is now very diverse. The rural population, labor force and economy encompass far more than farming. In fact, only 6.5 percent of the rural labor force is engaged in farming, or roughly half that employed in manufacturing (12.4 percent). Patterns of population change are surprisingly diverse as well. In the vast rural heartland of the Great Plains, for instance, hundreds of rural farming counties had many more people living in them in 1900 than they do today. In contrast, in areas endowed with natural and recreational amenities or situated near metropolitan areas, sustained population gains strain the social and physical infrastructure of communities.
The Mayberry Shake-Up: Where Economic and Ethnic Change Comes to Rural America From the 1920s to the 1960s, people left rural America in substantial numbers, but rural counties still grew slowly due to natural increase. In the 1970s a dramatic and surprising shift occurred when more people moved to rural areas than left. After out migration and slow growth in the 1980s, renewed migration gains fueled greater rural growth in the 1990’s.
The Carsey Institute report on the Challenges and Opportunities in Rural America confirms what we found to be challenges faced by denominations and churches around the country: Poverty rates are higher in rural than in urban America. Alcohol and drug abuse (including prescription drugs) and methamphetamine use are major problems for rural areas. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
The Carsey Institute report on the Challenges and Opportunities in Rural America confirms what we found to be challenges faced by denominations and churches around the country: Many low-skill jobs in rural areas are vulnerable to economic globalization; international competition is causing continued decline in low-skill jobs within agriculture and manufacturing industries. Young adults continue to leave rural America. At the same time, people in their 50s and 60s are increasingly moving into rural areas. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
The Carsey Institute report on the Challenges and Opportunities in Rural America confirms what we found to be challenges faced by denominations and churches around the country: Rural America is growing more diverse. Since 1980, one-quarter of the population increase in rural America has come from the growing Hispanic population. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
The Carsey Institute report on the Challenges and Opportunities in Rural America confirms what we found to be challenges faced by denominations and churches around the country: Persistent population loss is occurring in only parts of the country: Great Plains, parts of the Corn Belt, the lower Mississippi Valley and central Appalachia. Rural parts of the South and West see increases in part due to retirement communities. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
The Carsey Institute report on the Challenges and Opportunities in Rural America confirms what we found to be challenges faced by denominations and churches around the country: Counties with attractive natural and recreational amenities hold onto and attract residents (coastal, lake, mountains). Proximity to cities is also a major advantage for rural areas. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
Rural America Churches reputation for resisting change may be deserved, but perhaps a healthy skepticism is a more accurate description of rural American churches attitude. Rural America has undergone and continues to undergo significant change, but not without reflection and yes, the occasional resistance. That is to be commended: change and progress do not necessarily accompany each other. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
Rural Church Revitalization Works Best When… Renewal efforts are developed by the church not an outsider The bi-vocational model is utilized Shifts are taken carefully ad with slowness to allow time for the congregants to adapt to the nurural. You understand that rural America is not a static place; it is undergoing rapid change. The impetus for change comes both from within and without. Immigration, education, globalization – all are having dramatic impacts on the lives of rural citizens. Become a great teller of stories. The folks who attend their churches and the folk they are most effective with tend to be “oral” as contrasted with “literary” folk. The Gospel truth is communicated by them through moving stories that touch the heart.
Rural Church Revitalization Works Best When… Renewal is focused towards the older resident which makes up the majority of rural communities in North America Some sort of church hosted educational program to assist those with the acquiring of new skill sets is helpful Church Revitalizer operates as the social navigator of key community needs and issues and becomes the influencer for the betterment of the community. Food Kitchens and helping the impoverished work well in rural declining areas. Teamwork and utilization of volunteers is a very strategic choice to be made.
Rural Church Revitalization Works Best When… Renewal is focused on care of community residents, conversionism, social services, social issues of the community, and serving as a leadership voice into the community for the residents. Renewal efforts are pushed from a 6 mile focus to a thirty mile focus. Marrying and Burying with great competencies will serve you well.
Problems noted by our respondents which make the rural church revitalization ministry difficult clustered around the following 10 topics : 1. Aging congregation. 2. Traditional or local in perspective and not open to change, or welcoming of the new persons, methods, programs. 3. Lack of young people in the church. 4. Shortage of money and other resources 5. Declining population base in the area served. 6. Unable to offer a variety of programs and activities due to limited number of persons active in the congregation. 7. To few people with leadership abilities and training in the congregation. 8. Hard to keep a minister for the church. 9. Competition from secular activities. 10. Remaining true to the Gospel and proclaiming it properly in an age of secularity. Source: ruralchurch.us Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
Conversely, the advantages that rural ministry offers seems to cluster around these 10 topics: 1. Its relational, "like family", atmosphere. 2. Dedicated workers who are reliable. 3. Allow the pastor to be a shepherd/leader. 4. Deeply involved in ministry to one another and to the community. 5. Strong financial support to address the needs of the church and its ministry. 6. Actively supportive of the world missions enterprise. 7. Deep abiding faith that has carried many through difficult times, helping them to grow spiritually. 8. Open minded and accepting of new ideas. 9. Supportive of other small churches. 10. Love is experienced in the congregation. Consider which of these advantages and disadvantages are descriptive of a rural or town congregation with which you are well acquainted. Source: ruralchurch.us Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
The problems that rural pastors may have to confront, or otherwise deal with can be congregated around these 10 topics : 1. Small town mentality conservative, pre-modern in thinking, resistant to change, suspicious of the "different". 2. Limited access to some modern conveniences and cultural activities close at hand. 3. Time constraints related to serving bi-vocationally, or in a multi-point charge. 4. Constraint of opportunities to grow a church to a larger, more active size. 5. Poor self-image for self and church. 6. Struggles over traditions that seem to stifle vision and change. 7. Sacrifices by spouse and children related to living in a rural area. 8. Sense of being "under-employed" or lacking challenges that are related to ones gifts and training. 9. Stress related to the dysfunctionality of persons in the community; e.g. gossip, addictions, and abuses. 10. Lack of material resources in the church to provide the kind of ministry that one wants to be able to provide. Source: ruralchurch.us Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
Source: ruralchurch.us The advantages for those of us who do rural ministry are identified and collected in this list of 10: 1. Enjoyment of the intimacy and familiar nature of the congregation. 2. The depth of relationships with congregants which makes meaningful shepherding ministry possible. 3. People who are willing to follow their pastor and are open to new ways of doing things. 4. Relationships with mature Christians who have a deeply rooted spirituality. 5. Relaxed pace in the community. 6. Acceptance and affirmation by the church and community. 7. Involvement in the larger life of the community and its institutions. 8. Working with church leaders who really care deeply about ministry to others. 9. Able to move around the community feeling known and knowing. 10. The sense that one's life is counting for something vital.
Things Which Should Be Stated About Rural Revitalization! This will be the most challenging ministry assignment you will ever face! STAY THE COURSE. Your initial friends in the church will often become your biggest enemies due to your calling to revitalize a dying rural church. Some of those who take flight will talk about you forever in that community so you must be toughed skinned. Your marriage must be strong if you at to survive. Often you will feel like you are the sacrificial lamb being led to the slaughter. JESUS loves the little communities as much as he loves the big ones!
Despite popular perception, rural America is not a single community of homogenous farmers struggling to make a living. The communities of rural America are arguably far more diverse than their urban counterparts. Economically, socially, and culturally, rural America is at the forefront of adaptive change. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !
This diversity is most evident when surveying the rural economy. Across the country, agriculture still plays an important economic role – but fewer farmers are in business today than ever before. Many communities, blessed by natural amenities and scenic beauty, have capitalized on increased tourism as a way of strengthening the local economy. Manufacturing still employs many rural Americans. The service sector, including tourism, dominates rural employment, supplying a full 2/3 of rural jobs. Many rural areas still rely on mining and resource extraction, particularly in the West. Church Revitalization Realities in a Diverse Rural America !
Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America! The lasting solutions to rural America’s churches challenges will be found in rural America. But we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the rural American church has so many unique issues. In fact, most of the challenges facing the rural American church today, are often the same challenges for the declining rural, urban fringe, and extreme urban church seeking renewal and revitalization. Yet, while the challenges are similar, but the solutions are more unique.
Core Issues in Rural America Today Today, there are three rural Americas, sometimes distinct and sometimes overlapping, each with its own challenges: Amenity-rich areas, which are growing as Baby Boomers retire, as more people buy second homes, and as “footloose professionals” choose to settle in small towns with rich natural amenities or proximity to large cities.
Core Issues in Rural America Today Today, there are three rural Americas, sometimes distinct and sometimes overlapping, each with its own challenges: Declining resource-dependent areas, which can no longer rely on agriculture, timber, mining, or related manufacturing industries to support a solid blue-collar middle class.
Core Issues in Rural America Today Today, there are three rural Americas, sometimes distinct and sometimes overlapping, each with its own challenges: Chronically poor communities, where decades of resource extraction and underinvestment have left a legacy of poverty, low education, and broken civic institutions.
Core Issues in Rural America Today These conditions influence how communities address the issues they face amid a changing rural landscape. Amenity-rich areas, for example, must work to ensure the successful integration of newcomers and long-time residents, avoid a two-tier system of wealthy residents and those who serve them, and protect the natural environment that attracted the amenity migrants..
Core Issues in Rural America Today These conditions influence how communities address the issues they face amid a changing rural landscape. Communities facing declining economies must develop programs to ameliorate the impact of economic decline and innovate to stem future population and job loss. Chronically poor communities must expand their human and social capital to break the chain of persistent poverty.
The rural practitioners interviewed identified five main issues driving change in rural America: Demographic transitions Changing economic conditions Changing patterns of investment and resource distribution Challenges facing community institutions and civic leaders Environmental challenges
Demographic Challenges perspectives from the rural field: The loss of population, especially the young Our communities are 25 percent older than the rest of the nation. There is a significant decrease in population aged 30–39 and their children. With it, the social infrastructure is declining. We have fewer kids in school and no one to coach Little League. Quality of life New rural Americans
Changing Economic Conditions Declining resource-dependent areas have been hard hit by globalization and other economic forces. These are “yesterday’s” communities, where agriculture, paper and pulp mills, mining, and rural manufacturing sustained a blue-collar middle class and reasonably strong community institutions. Pools of skilled labor are insufficient and declining in rural areas. a workforce that can work the land is disappearing. Rural communities need more entrepreneurs, and they must attract people who can build new companies and create jobs. Technical and educational resources for workforce training are limited, often exacerbated by declining revenues for local schools. Absentee ownership and destructive resource extraction of core assets siphon off economic value in some communities and entire rural regions.
Natural resource-based economy Industrialization, consolidation, and globalization have changed the agricultural and forestry sectors, squeezing out smaller farmers, landowners, and operators, depressing wages and prices, and discouraging young people from entering the field. Large-scale agriculture is growing at the expense of small producers. An economy based on tourism is both a curse and a blessing. On the positive side, in-migrants are often dynamic, but on the negative side, the tourism economy is a seasonal service economy that pays no benefits. With a resort-based economy, you end up with some very wealthy and a lot of low-income earners.
Entrepreneurship Entrepreneurship is a critical driver of economic vitality in rural areas. Creating new, flexible small business development services, loan, grant and tax incentive programs, and technical assistance and educational options can help reverse the long- term drain of entrepreneurial capacity from rural areas.
Institutions and Civic Leadership Challenges Facing Community The rapid rate of change, declining effectiveness of traditional economic strategies, increasing environmental challenges, and demographic transitions require leadership to guide the community in new ways of thinking and doing. respondents called for leaders to be visionary and to see the potential in their communities; they must also be risk takers, able to create and respond to opportunities, and they must identify and use the assets within their own communities, rather than relying on dwindling and often inappropriate external assistance. some respondents described their communities as conservative and risk-averse, places where calling for change and action is not part of the civic culture. The old leadership cadre is often resistant to change, accustomed to traditional ways of doing things that worked well for them in the “old economy.” new approaches of sharing power and bringing in younger and more diverse voices are threatening to them. Many describe county officials as remote from community affairs, more overtly political, and often dominated by big business. Democracy in some rural communities is weak, with a politics of “who you know,” rather than one based on issues. some local communities have lost trust in local and larger government, and public participation has diminished.
The Rural Church in America in this century, must develop new relationships and new ways of doing things to ensure a prosperous, and healthy future while tapping into the resourcefulness and creativity of rural people. Church Revitalization Realities in Rural America !