In the short time my husband has been a pastor, we’ve served in several small-town churches. Some have been big and some very small, and this suburban gal has had quite an adjustment to make in both my ministry efforts and my expectations surrounding small-town life and relationships. Below are three inescapable realities I’ve observed about life and ministry in a small-town. In the next post I’ll share four more. Maybe you can relate?
Reality #1: We are outsiders.
Even if we stay in town for a decade, 10 years is a drop in the bucket compared to the generations many families have been in the community and in the church. Some may feel threatened by us outsiders, others may ignore us, yet others will embrace what we can bring to the table. Though newcomers, you and I can provide welcome change as well as fresh ideas to both our churches and community. We have experience to offer—even if that experience is only from one other church in one other town. Don’t be afraid to share a great idea if you have one, but don’t expect change to come quickly. Allow those around you to warm up to new concepts and give them space to process.
Reality #2: Our community exists as an interconnected web of relationships.
This affects everything in small town life—including church life. Everyone knows everyone, either through family ties, as schoolmates, or in commerce. There is a long history between families. Past hurts. Political alliances. Good and bad business dealings. All this and more affect the relationships within the church (making discipleship efforts challenging) as well as their interactions with the community (making evangelism complicated).
Though you and I may not carry much clout on our own, as we pour our lives into the individuals in our church—and as God brings life change—they can turn around and influence that great web they are a part of in ways we may never be able to.
SIDE NOTE: Be VERY careful when sharing any thoughts about people in your community. Chances are they are related to someone in your congregation!
Reality #3: It’s hard to break into their circles.
Since most people grew up in this same small town, they already have friends—some since Kindergarten. They are also typically surrounded by family, so even if they have few friendships, they have deep family connections. These relationships are comfortable, and many people are hesitant to introduce themselves to new people. You and I may have to be the initiator of almost every meaningful conversation we have. It’s draining, yes. But I’ve learned that if I want to make new friends in a small-town community, I will probably have to be the one to start the conversation.
Again and again.
Life in a small town can be a lonely place, yet it is often in these times of personal stretching that God has a more intimate place with Him waiting for us, as we learn to depend on Him in much greater ways.
Do you relate to any of these realities of small-town living? How have you seen God use the lonely places to draw you into a greater intimacy with Him?
Stay tuned for four more realities of small-town ministry.
Published October 20, 2014