When a missionary is sent to take the gospel to bear fruit in remote villages across the globe, people get excited. In fact, when a pastor is sent to a tiny town internationally:
- We applaud that pastor
- We resource that pastor
- We speak of their tremendous courage and faith
- We celebrate them
However, typically when I say that we need to train up men to take the gospel into rural areas in America, I am met with the exact opposite reply. Replies such as:
- Won’t that be a waste of their gifts?
- Well, I guess maybe it would be a good training grounds for “real” ministry.
It seems we have adopted an ideology that small towns in America do not matter as much as others do. Ultimately, I believe that this is a theological problem. Why? It is a theological construct that promotes that urban and suburban Americans matter more to God than rural ones do.
Below are four reasons as to why small towns still matter.
Why Small Towns Still Matter
Reason #1: People Live in Small Towns
While most people in society live in urban settings, more than half (1,378 out of 3,142) of all counties in the United States are considered rural. According to the last census from U.S. Census Bureau, 65 percent of counties in the U.S. are rural in population size.
The urban areas of the United States at the 2010 Census contained 249,253,271 people, representing 80.7% of the population, and rural areas contained 59,492,276 people, or 19.3% of the population. That’s a lot of people that need Jesus. According to the census, there were 16,307 towns in America under 25,000 people. That’s a lot of places that need the kingdom of God to be expressed.
Our commission is to make disciples of all nations-everywhere. Yes, we need to plant and revitalize churches in urban and suburban contexts because a lot of people live there. But, I have a sneaky suspicion that God cares about everybody. We also need to be planting and revitalizing churches in rural settings as well. People live there. In fact, my four kids live there.
Reason #2: Small Towns have BIG problems
Small town “Mayberry” or “Bluebell” doesn’t really exist anymore.
The poverty rate of my county (St. Francois, MO) is 20.4% per the 2014 Small Area Income and Poverty Estimate. We have a load of children in foster care. We have a battered women’s shelter and a homeless shelter in my county. At the same time, a sense of genuine community is being lost. We are forgetting how to live as good locals because the world has indoctrinated us to believe that we do not matter as much as urban professionals do, and it seems we have started to believe the marketing. Our schools train us up to send us off. Our community colleges train us up for jobs that often don’t exist in our areas.
Many small towns are left with people struggling to provide, struggling to see the difference in faith and hard work; faith and religiosity, faith and politics, and faith and morality. I am raising four beautiful daughters in the middle of this.
Reason #3: Small Town Churches are Struggling
Rural America is far less gospel-centered than most people think. From my experience our churches struggle in a variety of ways:
- Theologically – many of our members and pastors know more about tradition and politics, than the Bible and the Gospel.
- Sociologically – most our churches are filled with grey haired boomers. We are growing older and reaching far less young people. Often, there is also a separation of economic standing in our congregations.
- Missionally – we’ve adopted a bomb-shelter mentality.
- Practically – seminaries have pushed men to go to the big cities and their suburbs.
Who is going to reach our children if the struggle grows? Who is going to reach children like mine?
Reason #4: Small Town People Can Do Big Things for The Kingdom
Jesus was a small-town boy.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”(John 1:43-46 ESV)
Jesus was born and bred in two small towns; Bethlehem and Nazareth. He was from no-where-ville. Similarly, in my context, I picture a town with one gas station where you can pull up your 1985 Ford Bronco and grab a big fountain soda from Charley who also sells beer, bait, and guns.
The gospel story has its roots in overlooked places. Isn’t that just like the gospel though? The over-looked cherished by God!
I realize that the people living in small towns today are not Jesus. However, small-town believers can still do BIG things for the kingdom because Jesus has sent the Spirit to empower them too. Our small-town church has reproduced churches locally and across the globe. We are doing it out of the view of many in our world, but it is happening by the Spirit of God. We have big dreams and blue jeans.
Friends, this is my manifesto. Small town people still matter to God. Maybe you don’t believe it yet, but you will if you open your eyes. My children need you too. May God raise up more pastors with big dreams and blue jeans to carry the gospel to small towns in America, and everywhere else.