“In short, I like living in a small town. The urbanites may say that this is sentimentality, but I refuse to let the word frighten me. I believe that small-town life has values that should be preserved if they possibly can be. After all, the human race has spent the greater part of its existence in small communities, and I doubt if we have outgrown the need for a comprehensible society.”
That was written by Granville Hicks, a twentieth century intellect who was allured to small-town living. In 1946 he could already see the coming decline of rural America. “Has any small town,” he wrote “a future in this age of industrialism, urbanism, and specialization?” That didn’t stop him, however, from celebrating the lasting values of community. He even survived small town living to write a penetrating and winsome sociological commentary on rural life titled, Small Town. This American classic isn’t a how-to for rural ministry, but, it may surprise some, his perceptive awareness of society is very beneficial for the country church.
Let me just come out and say it. Either explicitly or implicitly, the modern church seems to place little to no value on the rural church. I get it. Small town living is perceived by many people as…well, as simply not a viable option. And if living there isn’t an option, then certainly the small town church isn’t either. Is there room for the rural church where there is a decreased economy, resources, populations, luxuries, and coffee-lattes? It’s a very real question that, at least implicitly, is being answered with “No,” as gifts, talents, manpower, resources, and energy is increasingly focused on urban churches. To be sure there are difficulties in rural ministry—not the least of which is trying to get the broader church to throw off stigmas and the hypnotic enchantment of the city. And this is in part where Hicks’s honest assessment becomes valuable for rural ministry.
Despite the marginalization of rural communities, Hicks found many things in their favor. One of the advantages he noted: “If the people in Roxborough want a better community, they can work for it and they have to work for it. A great deal is done for people in cities, done by remote councils and commissions that work in mysterious ways. And if the individual happens to want something that isn’t being done, his voice is not heard. In Roxborough even a single individual can initiate processes of change. It does not take a mass movement, armed with all the paraphernalia of modern propaganda, to raise the quality of life in a small town. The individual can count if he wants to.” Is his assessment far off? I remember living in a community of sixty-thousand and trying (quite unsuccessfully) to protest the rate with which the meter maids gave out parking tickets. Try not to blame me since I was a poor college student! Despite phone calls and letters, I achieved nothing. A trite example I know, but an example nonetheless. Not so in a small town. And that’s not just because we don’t have meter maids…or much by way of public parking. But because even a whisper in the rural community gets around quickly.
To this, I say, the benefits of a rural community can (and should) become the benefit of the rural church. I’m not waging a campaign trying to abolish the city church. Even though I don’t want to live in the city, I pray the preaching of the cross would reach the ears of Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. But one of the immediate advantages for the rural church is that our voice can resound throughout our sphere of influence–hospitals, schools, city-boards, league sports, town halls, prisons, nursing homes–quite literally, the whole community. And, at least situationally, it’s easier for us to be heard. Imagine the potential in a small town community where one or two dozen committed Christians spoke and lived as citizens of the kingdom. The light would be bright and the salt would be salty! Far from being useless, the rural church has the potential to be the epicenter of much good. Please don’t dismiss it. In a day where there’s exponential growth in secularism, pluralism, atheism, consumerism, and all kinds of other –isms in the urban, suburban, and rural, I have a great hope and expectation that rural churches devoted to the gospel and kingdom can be a force for good, for the tearing down of the strongholds of Satan, and for setting an example to our big city brothers and sisters as we labor under the Mediatorial Kingship of Jesus Christ.
…and, if anyone is interested, there is real-estate available in Winchester, KS.