4 keys to replanting rural churches

By Matt Henslee

Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from the book Replanting Rural Churches and originally appeared at factsandtrends.net

There are no-name places all over the nation. These are places the rest of the world has forgotten about (it’s called “fly-over country” for a reason).

But in these places are people serving God faithfully who want to see the Kingdom of God expand. Not to mention scores of people who need Jesus.

People need Jesus in Nowhere, USA.

According to the Southern Baptist Church Annual Church Profiles (ACP), there were 5,297,788 people gathered in Southern Baptist churches on any given Sunday in 2018.

These folks gathered in 51,541 Southern Baptist churches and church-type missions. If you simply divide those numbers, it comes out to a little more than 102 people per church or church-type mission.

But in actuality, when you account that some of those are megachurches, the weekly worship average attendance in a typical Southern Baptist church is closer to 65 people.

Why does this matter? It matters because, with very few exceptions, in a rural setting, you’ll be serving a normative-size church regardless of your denomination. In some cases, 250 people might rival the number of people who live in your community.

In more extreme cases, like in Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico, the church will often run three times the population of the community in worship attendance.

So forget going to Nowhere, USA, to make a name for yourself. Forget going to Nowhere, USA, to land on the conference circuit. I mean, you might as well forget going to Nowhere, USA, to grow a church into a megachurch.

Instead, let’s go to reclaim churches the world has all but forgotten about. God hasn’t forgotten about these churches — and neither should you. Here are four keys to replanting rural churches.

1. Preaching in a rural church

Biblical preaching may not always be popular. In fact, it may even cause you to lose some folks. However, the point is to be faithful, and God will bless your efforts.

Biblical preaching takes time, but it’s absolutely necessary. After all, when Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” it wasn’t a suggestion — it was a command.

Jesus doesn’t expect you to hit a home run each Sunday; He expects you to preach the Word. Your people don’t need you to be the next Dr. Adrian Rogers; they need (insert your name here) to preach the Word.

Fads will come and go. Trends will shift by the seasons, but there’s only one never-changing truth worth staking your church’s future upon: the Lord and His Word.

2. Praying in a rural church

One of the keys to revitalization in any context is prayer. You have no power to revitalize anything on your own, never mind the ability to see God’s glory reclaimed in a church in the middle of nowhere.

If you want to see God’s kingdom expand in places the world has passed by and passed over, it’ll require reliance on the supernatural provision of God.

In a rural area, you’re going to have to rely on God’s provision for your family. There’ll be some tough days for you. But there will be tough days for your people as well.

And God promises to meet the needs of His people, though not necessarily on your or your people’s timelines. Make no mistake, however, God will provide.

3. Passion in a rural church

What a privilege it is to pastor the bride of Christ! We who are called to this have been entrusted with Jesus’ sheep.

This means you might get dirty, and there’ll be days you’ll want to hang up the shepherd’s staff and sell cars. But what a privilege!

Take a moment right now to thank God for the church He’s given you or the church He may one day give you. Consider what a great responsibility it is.

Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

For the joy that lay before Him, Jesus endured the greatest agony imaginable. Let me be clear: you can handle a couple of bad days. Not only that, you can do so with a little pep in your step. Think about it: You preach the Word of God to the people of God in the house of God in which dwells the Spirit of God. I can’t think of a better reason to have a little passion!

4. Persevering in a rural church

Sometimes, we quit too soon. Jim-Bob got angry that the special music on Memorial Day didn’t include the military service songs and you weren’t wearing your American flag tie. Sue-Anne put you on blast on Facebook because you preached two minutes past noon.

You reach for the rip-cord, and off you go; you’re out of there. Don’t! Lay down your roots and persevere. There’ll be some phenomenal days of ministry, there’ll be days when you just can’t seem to win, and there will be everything else in between.

But if you aim to revitalize or replant a church, you need to realize you just signed up to climb Mt. Everest, backward, while carrying years of baggage on your back.

You’ll slip, you’ll fall, and you’ll likely face an avalanche of criticism along the way, but there’s something special about planting that flag on the top of the mountain because there’s no way you can say, “Look what I did.”

No, that’s a flag that says, “Look what God did!”

When we quit too soon, we not only miss out on a potential blessing, we also move our church even farther back. Instead, play the long game.

Decide from the beginning that, barring a clear call from the Lord, you’ll be there indefinitely. Sign a blank check to the Lord for that church and tell Him, “Spend me as You will.”

Roaring back to life

Pastor, it’s not your job to build your church. It’s Jesus’ job, and there’s no foundation other than Him.

If you’ll put your fruitfulness on the altar — along with your desires to grow a platform or build a name for yourself — and follow Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to “preach the Word … with great patience,” we believe Jesus will take care of the rest.

And you just might see a rural church roar back to life.,

Published August 28, 2019

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per month full of articles from a variety of Replanting voices.

Matt Henslee

Matt Henslee (@mhenslee) is the pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico, D.Min student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of a few books, including Evangelize to Revitalize and Text-Driven Invitation.