Small-town life can be very isolating for the ministry family. There is also great potential for that same family to be stretched and used for God’s glory amidst a church and community desperate for a fresh wind of His Spirit. Here are four more realities of small-town life and ministry. (You can catch first three here.)
Reality #4: There is little need for new things to do.
People are busy with family obligations and life-long friendships and tend to have a certain way of doing things and a certain time for doing them. They often have long established patterns and rhythms.
This, combined with the little need for new relationships, makes many of the typical outreach efforts of suburbia difficult to contextualize to the small town. For example, young mom’s don’t have the same felt-need for a mom’s night out. If they need a sitter they call Grandma or Aunt Susie. People are often busy with family get-togethers every weekend that yet another event to throw in the mix is just not really something to look forward to.
And so we have yet another opportunity to depend on the Spirit of God to give us creativity and the strength to lean into Him, instead of the strength of past “successful” plans. There’s nothing quite like an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy to drive us to our knees.
Reality #5: It is hard to know what goes on when.
The locals seem to always know what is going on—even though there is very little communicated about it, beyond word-of-mouth. Meanwhile, the newbies in town find out about things late, if at all. This is a great opportunity to strike up those conversations and ask the people you meet what are the must-see and must-dos of your town. Most people you meet have a great pride in their town and will love to share with you what there is to do and see. Show interest by engaging in local activities and see if you don’t feel more plugged in.
Reality #6: EVERYONE “goes” to church.
At least here in the South this is true. Even if they only attend once a year, many are already members of a church they’ve grown up in, or at least have strong family ties to. It is very hard to find the unchurched. Most people don’t see themselves as unchurched—even if they never attend, but once a year. They’ve heard the gospel (or some form of it) growing up.
The upside here is since there is some familiarity with the Gospel, most people will not shy away from a spiritual conversations or even an invitation to church. Be bold! Their responses might just surprise you.
Reality #7: Everything in ministry happens in a smaller scale.
It is hard to find people in our stage of life, fewer young families. It takes longer for ministry to grow, and in the smaller churches, we cannot simply put something on the calendar and expect people to respond as we would hope. We continue to work to understand this context and it’s needs. Once again, this drives a great neediness for God and a more consistent prayer life as we ask for fresh ideas and creativity in our attempts to minister to those He has placed in our lives.
Whether you minister in a small town, juggle the demands of a large city church, or battle the giants of a new church-plant, it is easy to give into discouragement and begin to believe growth and life-change will never come. Yet, God has sent us to these churches with purpose. He can and will use anyone who seeks His glory to be seen among our churches—even us outsiders.
Have you experienced any of these realities in your place of ministry? Which is the hardest for you to deal with? What ministry tips do you have to share to overcome these realities?
Published October 22, 2014