4 Steps to Begin Revitalizing Rural Churches

By Mark Clifton

America’s rural communities present an incredible mission field. Three out of every four cities in North America have less than 5,000 people in them. More than 45 million people call rural America home.

But rural communities also pose a missions challenge. Many churches in these settings struggle with isolation, lack of resources and a host of other issues.

If that’s your church, I want to help. I’ve seen God do some incredible things through revitalized rural churches. I believe the same can happen in your church as you start with these four steps of revitalization.

1.     Pray strategically

Don’t skip this. Prayer isn’t a platitude. It’s absolutely critical to your work of revitalization in a rural context. Specifically, you need to pray for these three areas:

  • Pray for yourself. Ask God to give you stamina, so you’ll last for the long haul in your ministry context. Pray that God would give you compassion for those inside and outside your church family. Pray for steadfastness in your faith and boldness to proclaim the gospel. Don’t stop there, though. Get others to pray for you. You need prayer warriors lifting you up. Your prayer warriors don’t need to live near you, either. You can find them all across North America and around the world. You’re in a spiritual battle. Satan has taken off the gloves with you. Take your spiritual battles seriously.
  • Have your church pray for itself. Most Southern Baptist churches, especially in rural areas, talk about prayer often. They value it. Prayer is still culturally accepted in rural communities. Lean into that. But I’d encourage your church to expand its prayer focus. You still want to pray for the sick and afflicted, but don’t stop there. Lead your church in praying for their own sick and afflicted spiritual condition. Model for them what it means to pray for boldness in sharing the gospel and for help in becoming a disciple-maker. Encourage congregants to pray that God would give the church compassion for their neighbors and generosity toward all they meet. Also, don’t overlook your corporate prayer times. They need to be more than just trite repetitions. Use them as times when you train your congregation for gospel issues.
  • Pray for the community. One of the great joys of rural America is that people aren’t offended when you pray for them. Look for ways to do this strategically throughout your community. For example, if you have a senior living center in your community, take a couple of men with you and go there to pray for the elderly — pray for their health, their children, and their grandchildren. Our church has gone throughout the community, distributing door hangers containing New Testaments and a little card encouraging people to submit prayer requests on our website. We’ve also asked the community for prayer requests on our Facebook page and received several specific requests from the community.

2.     Be neighborly

Smile at people and make eye contact. Everyone in small towns knows the pastors. If you’re in a local convenience store, do your best not to ignore people. It’s easy these days to be distracted as we go about our business. We can go in and out of stores and restaurants without really acknowledging others. It’s easy to get in a hurry. Even if you’re busy and need to be someplace else, be polite, look people in the eyes and smile. Even when you’re in your vehicle, try not to cut people off and drive irresponsibly. People know what you drive. Smile and wave as much as possible. You want your community to see you as a friendly person.

3.     Get engaged in your community

You can make a much larger impact in a rural community than you can in a city. Get involved in meetings of whatever commission governs your community. They can be boring at times, but they give you an opportunity to find out needs in the community that you can help meet. You’re looking for any way you can make an impact. You might find there are some public buildings or houses that need repair. Your church can offer to help. Even if you can’t do all the repairs, you still can help. When word gets out about your church’s generosity, your community’s perception of your church will change.

I know what you’re thinking: You’re concerned that you’re too small to really impact your community. First, you’d be surprised to discover how much a small church can do when they’re committed to serving their community. But you also can partner with other churches to multiply your effectiveness. Your denominational associations can be a great place to start.

4.     Consider how your church property looks to your community

You may think everything is fine with your property. It may not have changed much in the past century. You need to look at it with fresh eyes. It doesn’t take much to make your building stand out. A new coat of paint, new landscaping or a new sign can help. Put up a colorful banner that tells of your church’s support for the local high school. Anything you do to your building communicates something new is happening, that you’re proud of what’s going on and want to share it with your neighbors.

These are just four ways your rural church can begin revitalizing your presence in the community. You can think of many more, but these are a good place to start.

Published October 6, 2022

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Mark Clifton

Mark Clifton is the senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board. Mark has served as a pastor, church planter, church revitalizer, mission strategist, coach and mentor to young leaders. He has planted and replanted numerous churches and has also served as a national and regional leader for church planting and missions. His experience includes serving as the lead mission strategist for the Kansas/Nebraska Southern Baptist Convention, leading church planting efforts in the regions of north metro Atlanta, Georgia, serving as a church planter in Montreal, Quebec, as a Southern Baptist National Church Planting Missionary for eastern Canada, and has lead Southern Baptist church planting projects west of the Mississippi. Mark has been planting, replanting and providing strategic mission leadership since 1978. Mark and his wife, Jill, live in Kansas City, Missouri and have two sons, two daughters-in-law and three grandsons.