A Model for Effective Ministry in Rural America
By Bill Hennessy, D.Min.
In one drive through the American country, you’ll likely drive past two or three rural churches standing empty and unused. For decades, these churches served entire communities as both worship and community centers.
The steady migration of rural families toward metropolitan areas has convinced some Church strategists that the role of the rural church has ended and that those empty buildings are little more than an example of a historic Americana, better suited to wall art than relevant ministry.
Still, 60 million Americans live outside urban centers. The needs of these rural communities are every bit as real as those of their urban counterparts. According to Benjamin Anderson, a rural Hospital administrator in Colorado, the loss of community in rural areas has created a suicide crisis among Senior Citizens who feel isolated and abandoned. At the same time, addiction issues rampage and compromises younger rural Americans. Much of this crisis stems from the decline of once vibrant churches.
A variety of ministries, podcasts and seminars speak to these ideas on how ministry in rural America can be effective, but new approaches are needed. Let me offer one concept that might have great impact on a number of rural churches.
Imagine a pastoral team made up of two or three people that serve four congregations in a relatively large geographic area. On any given Sunday, the adult pastor speaks in one church while the youth pastor speaks in another. A children’s pastor speaks at the third church and the fourth church is led by an elder or deacon. The next Sunday, the team rotates to their next location. On the occasional fifth Sunday, a celebration service is held in one of the four locations, bringing all of the members together to worship and thank God for His faithfulness.
It’s quite possible that funding for the pastoral staff could be raised like any other Christian ministry. It’s also possible that the youth and children’s pastors would be considered part time, while the adult pastor would receive a full-time salary. That adult pastor would be available for pastoral care and administration. All partnering churches would share the salaries of the pastoral team. In this way, four churches could be served by supporting an amount equal to one part-time salary.
If this sounds familiar, it should. It is a variant of the old “Circuit Rider” model used to bring the Gospel across America at a time of rapid expansion. This forgotten model could also have the potential to help struggling churches thrive again in challenging times.
What model of rural ministry have you found effective in ministering to the needs of families and individuals living outside metropolitan areas? How might you take the idea I’ve submitted above and make it better? We look forward to your comments and perhaps putting your ideas out for widespread consideration.