Reaching Rural Communities: Where do you start?

I was sitting in a pub in Cork, Ireland when an interesting blog popped up in my email. In, “Rural Matters: Part of God’s Plan to Transform Our Communities and Our World,” Ed Stetzer points to the, often unmet spiritual needs in rural communities. The people across the table were American missionaries making their home in a rural Irish community.

While acknowledging the needs of rural Ireland (America, too) they lamented over the difficulties of engaging an insular community. They fear that they will always be seen as outsiders, which is probably true.

Dislocated Newcomers

We discussed the possibility of moving into a larger city where there is a steady stream of newcomers. Dislocated newcomers are less insular and more open to the gospel. If they are Irish, they are a step closer to Irish farmers than my missionary friends. It would seem wise to build out from a city into the surrounding farmland. A secondary reason for such a strategy is financial. Translocating to any new community is expensive. It’s more expensive per capita when reaching into a sparsely populate area. Its not such a stretch to plant microchurches from a hub into underserved nearby communities.

Given that American churches (and missionaries) tend to be middle-class suburbanites, a microchurch approach is practical. You build on the lives of what I call crossover people—those with on foot in your world and another in the community or culture that birthed them.

Crossover People

At the end of the day, my young friends decided that they would become the crossover people by going multisite, with one group in the country and another in the city. That may not be ideal but it’s a positive step.

The greater lesson is for local churches to take up the call to reproduce by discipling their members to multiply churches in nearby underserved communities. I have a friend who did this when planting in a mid-sized city in Idaho. Partially funded by our congregation, he launched as an intentionally bivocational pastor. In a year the church had grown to nearly 150 people, but perhaps more significantly, had launched two microchurches in nearby rural villages. Each of those numbered around 30 persons—too small to warrant large church planting funds yet surely significant.

Can you name three “crossover people” whom you know? Tell us something about the possibilities in the comments box below…

You can read Ed Stetzer’s article, Rural Matters: Part of God’s Plan to Transform Our Communities and Our World, on




2 thoughts on “Reaching Rural Communities: Where do you start?”

  1. As always, another great thought Ralph. Our original campus is in a city of 30k. Not large but feels very urban. Every community north, east and west of us is under 5k with only one being around 10k. We’re looking to launch micro churches in every one of these places. We could name more than handful of crossover people. The opportunity is huge

  2. bobby gilbert

    hmmm . . . I would suppose that there is a traditional theological root somewhere . . . maybe not. In dealing with germany in the south, catholicism is the dominate christian church. Very much in most of the rural community. The further one is away from the city, the stronger the tradition. In these communities, new families are moving there. Also, a phenomenon since about 2014-15, middle east people are moving into these communities.

    Defining one’s faith (catholic or christian), in my situation. Evangelical on one hand is not at all possible because “evangelical” is what lutherans are called here in germany. Free church is also not a possibility. This is basically any church that is not catholic, lutheran or eastern. The long drawn out process of creating family groups and setting the challenge of “well then, teach me your faith”. I am throwing the ball back at them.

    The new families who have slowly taken over the church in pieces are forced to decide “do we really want to go down this road of tradition. what is important?” I am the biggest critic of stupid. I have done stupid. I get paid to do stupid. Somethings, I don’t do anymore because it is NOT my tradition. I did not do that as a catholic in hawaii.

    Here we are . . . . looking for jesus. not just god. not just belief. Setting up in any of these communities, micro is not going to go very far.

    If one looks at the church, my church has over y 100 years of history. The big moments where the late 50-60’s, one can see the influence. One can see the influence of the jesus movements that came later in the 80’s was not a huge influence. Here we are in a age where “what do we actually believe?”

    Most people are not interested in my take on weeks. This is the story. So . . . my main mission is building groups of families. slow process, but it is better than an event that may take place at the other church. We have families grilling together. We have families meeting with each other. As a break from “altar server training”, we had a hamburger day. I bought Mc hamburgers and fries for the gang. I had a cooler of drinks with ice. The parents and kids had fun with the ice that was in the cooler. some of the kids were going camping with the other church. They have a event and need numbers. They only had a place for 40 kids. I could not figure out why they could not fill 40 places. They insisted that we get our kids to go. i asked about their team. They had a motley crew of ten. I said if each of you invited 3 friends, you would have 40. Don’t you have 3 friends? This was too complicated. Some of our kids filled the blanks. They have events. We have have families. I am pushing families. Get families involved. translate it into your language. Scripture reading for mass. Ask so and so. Get a new woman’s group with young women. Start a kindergarten group with parents. Get the priest to visit the kindergarten once a week and say . . . . hi. Bobby alone does not fix it. All the kids know me, but I am not the priest.

    Why do we even exist as a church?

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