Rural Church

The Sociology of Church and Community

As a properly raised Southern Baptist boy, raised in Western Missouri where the refrain “We
don’t smoke; we don’t chew; and we don’t go with girls who do” was a foundation stone of our personal
ethic, I was more than a little shocked when Ben told me about the title of the conference, The Tobacco Church.

10 Successful Country Churches Revisited

In 1922 the Sunday School Board and the Home Mission Board did a major study of the 20,000 village and country Southern Baptist congregations. From these, ten were selected (as representative of the most effective rural churches) for a special in-depth survey. When I discovered this publication, I began wondering, “whatever happened to . . . ? With the help of directors of associational missions, I found out.

15 Steps for Leading a Stable Rural Church off the Plateau

Many ministers are ill-prepared to lead a small rural or village church. The new pastor comes to the pastorate with one set of expectations and understandings and finds a church with a different set. The stage is set for conflict and hurt. You do not want this. The church does not need it. May I suggest some steps you might take in discovering the inner life of the smaller membership church you serve?

20 Changes in Rural Baptist Churches Since 1945

1. Better housed Better equipped
2. More and better-prepared worship services
3. More, greater variety of programs, events and projects
4. Laity better trained/more informed
5. The members are more cosmopolitan/secular
6. New and more diverse rhythms of life characterize the congregation
7. Increased community diversity

Some Things They Forgot to Tell Me about My Church

The material that follows is drawn from experiences and reflections upon more than a decade of experience as a bivocational pastor in rural and village settings, discussions and interviews with many who serve in this setting, and from reading and hearing the insights of close observers of small churches such as Carl Dudley, Lyle Schaller, and Garland Hendricks.

For Smaller-Membership Churches

Recently, I was privileged to attend a training offered by Lyle Schaller on doing consultations with congregations. What follows is my effort to summarize the points that he made as applied to smaller membership churches.
A. Work from a Biblical base (Our Church on Mission, Ephesians 4-6, Revelation 2-3)
B. There is a place for smaller-membership churches in the life of the Christian movement

A Dozen or More Learnings about Rural Church Life

There are two basic ecclesiologies: Western European Heritage: Parish. Pastoral Care. Salvation is in and through the church. For Christendom. Colony. Mainlines and Roman Catholics Made in America: Salvation comes through an encounter with God. Product of the Great Awakenings. Gathered. Evangelical. Conquest.


Often I have been asked, “What is the difference between large suburban and small rural churches?” The answer came to me one Sunday about a year ago as I looked out over the congregation of Aliceville Baptist Church. Four and five generations of a family, in fact of several families, were spread out across a pew. Pew after pew.

The Smaller Church and its ‘Annual Event’

As the first fingers of light began to streak the eastern sky, from the vantage point of the top of the cemetery hill in the Shady Grove community, one could observe a steady stream of automobiles and farm trucks coming from both directions along state route 37. Soon the parking lot was filled and overflowed. Little knots of people carefully made their way to the brow of the hill, visiting in hushed tones.

10 Major Issues for Christian Folk in a Small Town

Small town ministry is challenging. It demands creative and committed persons. People who are both Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20) and Great Command (Matt. 22:37-40) persons…

Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Smaller Membership Rural Church

Among the battles I waged while serving as a leader of the town and country
church program for the Southern Baptist Convention was the tendency for many to
transfer the secular American view that “bigger is better” into their understanding of the
mission and work of the churches.

Outline of “Studying Congregations”
by Nancy Ammerman et al.

Voluntary groupings:
Frames for study Ecology–churches, other organizations, history, technology, community, denom…

Contrasting Church Cultures

Large suburban vs. small rural…

Church Covenant

Taken from New Hampshire Confession of Faith.
Appendix to the 1833 Statement

“Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on the profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do now

Strategies for Dealing with Rural Churches

Recently a copy of The Country Preacher came into my hands. I was impressed that its
advice continues to ring true, although 65 years have passed since it was first published.
Jeff Ray, the author, taught preaching and rural sociology at Southwestern Seminary for
many years.

Marks of a Walmart Style Church

Centered more than bounded. Open to people many miles away, as contrasted with a church that limits outreach efforts to its traditional parish or field, about three miles each

Church planting is not complete in town and country places

We have all thrilled at the stories of the planting of growing, evangelical congregations in
the great cities of America. We have all been challenged by the magnitude of reaching the cities
for Christ.

Policy Goals for Rural People, Churches, and Communities

Agriculture and other natural resource-based economic activities should be sustainable
and renewable.

Issues Related to Rural Church Life

The researchers for the recent rural church study in Missouri interviewed church leaders and
pastors in about 400 congregations across that state. They asked about the problems and advantages of rural churches as such and about the advantages and disadvantages of pastoring rural churches. Below I have collected and summarized the comments.

Revisioning Rural Ministry: What Are Our Purposes?

1. Upgrade the role of the town and country pastor–a variety of exciting challenges await.
2. Enable urban-raised ministers to be effective in rural parishes.

Small Churches Feel Good

There is a growing awareness that smaller churches, those with fewer than 40 in average
attendance, are a different “breed” than even those twice their size. They are tough, resilient and
“hard to kill.” They are survivors.

Understanding the “life” of a traditional rural church

In trying to deal with the idea that some rural churches have a European Heritage (parish)and others a Made in America Heritage (gathered, covenant community), as Lyle Schallerexpresses it, and trying to consider that some are informed by the world view and thought formsof pre-modernity (God is the final cause of everything) and others modernity (most things happening terms of the laws of nature…

Church Budget

Projected General Fund Income for the fiscal year…

Dr. Gary Farley was the Director of Missions for the Pickens Baptist Association (1997-2017). From 1984 to 1997 he worked at the Home Mission Board in the Rural Church Program of the Southern Baptist Convention. In that role he published many articles pertaining to rural church and community life. Many of these articles have been collected here as a small library. We invite you to freely distribute these materials under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.