Reaching Rural Communities: Where do you start?

I was sitting in a pub in Cork, Ireland when an interesting blog popped up in my email. In, “Rural Matters: Part of God’s Plan to Transform Our Communities and Our World,” Ed Stetzer points to the, often unmet spiritual needs in rural communities. The people across the table were American missionaries making their home in a rural Irish community.

While acknowledging the needs of rural Ireland (America, too) they lamented over the difficulties of engaging an insular community. They fear that they will always be seen as outsiders, which is probably true.

Dislocated Newcomers

We discussed the possibility of moving into a larger city where there is a steady stream of newcomers. Dislocated newcomers are less insular and more open to the gospel. If they are Irish, they are a step closer to Irish farmers than my missionary friends. It would seem wise to build out from a city into the surrounding farmland. A secondary reason for such a strategy is financial. Translocating to any new community is expensive. It’s more expensive per capita when reaching into a sparsely populate area. Its not such a stretch to plant microchurches from a hub into underserved nearby communities.

Given that American churches (and missionaries) tend to be middle-class suburbanites, a microchurch approach is practical. You build on the lives of what I call crossover people—those with on foot in your world and another in the community or culture that birthed them.

Crossover People

At the end of the day, my young friends decided that they would become the crossover people by going multisite, with one group in the country and another in the city. That may not be ideal but it’s a positive step.

The greater lesson is for local churches to take up the call to reproduce by discipling their members to multiply churches in nearby underserved communities. I have a friend who did this when planting in a mid-sized city in Idaho. Partially funded by our congregation, he launched as an intentionally bivocational pastor. In a year the church had grown to nearly 150 people, but perhaps more significantly, had launched two microchurches in nearby rural villages. Each of those numbered around 30 persons—too small to warrant large church planting funds yet surely significant.

Can you name three “crossover people” whom you know? Tell us something about the possibilities in the comments box below…

You can read Ed Stetzer’s article, Rural Matters: Part of God’s Plan to Transform Our Communities and Our World, on