Rural pastors, by choice or by what opportunities were available, you are serving in small out of the way places. Rural pastor, you are not serving in big cities and big churches and the fame that seems to come to some who are serving in these places. Yet you are following in Jesus' footsteps. Look at Mark 1: 35-39.
Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.
Jesus had been busy healing people and casting out demons. The crowds were amazed. They were excited. They wanted more of this from this miracle worker. The disciples saw the crowds and thought that Jesus should be out there continuing to satisfy the crowds. Instead, Jesus chose to continue to go on to other towns to preach to these other townfolk.
Rural pastor, you ended up in your rural community by choice or by the situations you found yourself in. Maybe you are longing for a bigger audience. Maybe you look longingly at your friends who graduated from Bible College and Seminary with you who are now leading large congregations in the city. Take a cue from Jesus. Preach to your community and reach out to them.
Many small rural communities have only one or two churches. The people in these small communities need to hear the gospel just as much as anyone in the city. There is a difference though. When a person in the city wants to hear about Jesus, that person has a choice of tens, or even hundreds, of churches to attend. There hundreds and thousands of believers spread throughout their city. When a person in the isolated rural communities wants to hear about Jesus, in many cases they have the option of one or two churches to go to. They have the possibility of encountering a few believers who might help them find Jesus.
Rural churches are important to those who have limited opportunity to encounter someone who will point them to Jesus. Rural pastor, recognize your role as being in the unique place of providing the gospel to people who have few options in their search for Jesus once that search begins.
Rural pastor, you are following in the footsteps of Jesus when you serve in the quiet places of our nation. See your role as vital to your congregation and to your community. You are bringing the gospel to people who need Jesus, and doing it in places where anyone searching has limited opportunities to find answers about Jesus!
Most rural churches are small because most rural communities are small. That is not a bad thing, that is just the way it is. But in small churches we notice when a few families are missing. Numbers can go down quickly.
This past Sunday I was in a small church and was reminded about how there are regular ups and downs in the attendance of each church. This building seated about 120 or more, but there were only about 25 people in church that Sunday. I felt a little sorry for the pastor because I have had many of those Sundays in my ministry experience as well.
Each church has "seasons" where we know certain things will happen. If you are in a farming community, your farmers will have little time for church meetings during seeding and harvest time. If you are in a ranching community, you know that your members who are calving will not be around much during the time their new calves come. If you are in a logging community, you know that there are certain times when the loggers go all out, and other times where they have all kinds of time on their hands.
Each church is also affected by the seasons of holidays. If your church is young, many will be gone to visit family during the special Sundays of Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter. If your church is older, you will probably have an in attendance on those special Sundays as family comes home to spend the weekend with mom and dad. If you live in the north, you may have realized that as soon as good weather comes, everyone goes camping - at least it sure feels that way. Summer holidays means that many of your people will be vacationing away somewhere.
This church I attended this past Sunday was a small church to begin with, but this Sunday it competed with summer vacations, a long weekend with a holiday Monday, and a nice sunny day in a long period of clouds and rain. As a result, many people were away. And good for them. But it can be disheartening for the pastor.
It is so easy to allow the ups and downs of church attendance to also make our emotions go up and down. We need to understand the seasons of our church. We need to see that when many people are gone, that is okay. For many, they are spending quality family time together that they cannot do when Dad is always at work. It's okay. And when everyone returns in September and numbers go back up, celebrate that. They have come back to church. They are still part of the church even if they miss some Sundays over the summer.
Understand the seasons of your church. Plan for meetings and activities during the slow times. Plan for less busy-ness at church during the busy times when your members are not available. Allow your church calendar of programs to go with the ebb and flow of your community. When everyone is busy, take time to plan ahead. Pastor, work ahead on your sermon series. Plan for your next ministry season. Take time to pray and plan so you are ready when your members slow down.
Understand the seasons of your church and do not allow a Sunday or two of low attendance to bring you down emotionally.