Shaping culture in a rural church

By Adam Wyatt

The culture of the church will shape its ministry. In a rural context, people truly feel like they understand the culture around them. However, many will not see the culture as it truly is.

Derek Kidner stated, “Sometimes it takes a stranger to see sharply what has been softened by familiarity.” This is most definitely true of a church in a rural context. Because your people have grown up in the area they think that everyone is just like them and thinks like them. Whether they want to admit it or not, they tend to see their rural community much like Mayberry. 

A Replanter must understand that most of the members of a rural church want the best for their church but may have simply lost their way. What are some of the signs that a rural church could be losing its way?

A loss of vision: evidence that a church has lost its vision can be seen when the members do not see their church as it really is. Whether they live in the glory of days gone by, or they see their church as being a healthy church because once upon a time it was. Regardless of the reality of the church, a Replanter must be sensitive to the current state of the church he is seeking to lovingly lead. I am convinced that in order to truly lead a church to change you must understand what makes it tick.

No evaluation of ministries: A rural church must come to the place where they evaluate ministry on a regular basis. Here are some questions that help in that process: What are the ministries that need to be added? What are the ones that need to killed? What are the proverbial “sacred cows” in the church? These are questions that must be addressed by the Replanter but they cannot be answered without coming to terms with the current culture of the church. Most rural churches are seeped in history and tradition: some good…some bad.

Leadership in the hands of a few: If a church is led by a few people, what is most important to them will come through in the way in which the church operates. What a church has traditionally held as important will continue to show in what that church does. A Replanter must understand this.

Here are additional questions to be asked and answered in developing a clearer picture of the current culture of the church:

  1. How does the church spend its budget? You can tell a lot about a church by the way it spends its money. Does most of the money go to existing ministries that are focused on current members? Does it spend any money on outreach and evangelism? You can find out a church’s heartbeat by looking at its budget and a replanter must be willing to see this as a window into its heart.
  2. How does the church spend its time? Where do people spend their time not just at church but outside of it? Does it serve its community? Does it visit the sick and widowed? A lot of times there are either a few core people who go outside of the walls of the church in order to do ministry but, in other cases, some churches expect this to be done by the pastor.

A Replanter must learn to exegete the culture of the church if he is going to be able to successfully lead it to change what needs to be changed. He cannot do this properly without understanding the people that he has been called to lead.

Understanding your church is crucial to replanting it and cannot be done properly without understanding the call to be a shepherd. There is a fine line between success and failure in rural replanting but it starts with understanding the culture of the church.

Published November 17, 2016

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Adam Wyatt

Adam Wyatt is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Leakesvile, Mississippi. A second-generation pastor, he has developed a love for the rural church in the Southern context. He loves his wife, his three beautiful daughters, good conversation, books and coffee. He is also pursuing his PhD in Biblical Theology from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. Connect with Adam @pastor_adam