In the last three years our church has started campuses in three smaller towns in east central Illinois. We have been surprised at how rapidly these new churches (sites of our overall church) have grown. It’s been very rewarding to see the many lives changed and marriages saved as these communities are served in significant ways. In September we will be launching a new Vineyard church (another campus of our church) in Charleston, Illinois, a small university town about an hour south of our original campus in Urbana. We still have a lot to learn but based on our experience so far, here are ten reasons why we all should be planting churches (both new campuses and church plants) in rural America.
- There’s no competition. It’s too bad, but there seems to be no “competition” when we start a Christ-centered church that includes an emphasis on the Holy Spirit, excellent worship, and great children’s ministry in smaller towns. In surveying those that are coming to our church, we have found that 31-35% at our new campuses were not previously involved in a church and an additional 25% say that they had a church home before but they were not actively involved in it. There’s a great need for vibrant churches in rural areas to reach the unchurched and dechurched there.
- It’s cheaper. It costs less to start a church in a small town. Real estate is much less expensive to both rent and purchase. For example, in one small town we rent a 6,000 square foot building in the center of town for just $1000 a month. In another town we bought 18 acres of land right on the edge of town for $8000 an acre. These prices are unbelievably inexpensive compared to what things cost in the micropolitan of Champaign-Urbana, our home base.
- It’s easier to get people’s attention in small towns. In small towns everyone’s business is everyone’s business! When we do a kindness outreach, enter a float in the Labor Day Parade, provide school supplies for needy school children, or lead a local drug dealer to Christ, people notice. These things are important to do in a larger community as well, but they don’t get people’s attention like they do in a small town.
- Church planting movements are easier to start in small towns. Around the world there are amazing church planting movements (CPMs) taking place. Something is considered a CPM when a spontaneous reproduction of churches begins to happen in an explosive way. It’s the goal of many denominations and mission agencies to start CPMs, not merely start individual churches. Interestingly, almost all of the CPMs worldwide are taking in rural areas. That’s because in large metropolitan areas people are more isolated. Actually, research suggests that many people are more open to the good news of Christ in big cities but the problem is that they often must be reached one at a time, whereas in small towns people are more interconnected relationally and the gospel can travel rapidly through these relationships once people are reached. Thus…
- It’s easier to reach families and networks in small towns. In small towns people’s lives are more interconnected. For example, we all have different types of relationships—there are people we work with, people we live near, people we are relatives with, and people we share hobbies or interests with, etc. In a large city these are all separate circles. In a small town these circles overlap extensively. For example, the clerk that serves you at the grocery story might be the mother of your child’s classmate, their uncle is your next door neighbor, and their husband plays on your softball team. You need to be careful not to speak ill of someone in a small community because you are probably talking to one of their cousins. When someone comes to Christ in a small town this often influences an expanding number of people because of how closely people are tied to one another. The gospel travels relationally and relationships are stronger in rural areas. So you can reach entire families and networks of people much more easily in small towns.
- People are more open to Biblical truth in small towns. Large cities are more secular and people’s beliefs there are more eclectic. But in small town America many unchurched people have a biblical mindset and feel guilty for not going to church. This makes church planting there easier.
- It’s much easier to get building permits in small towns. If you’re used to construction projects in larger towns, you will be amazed at how much easier getting permits and inspection approvals are. In large towns where bureaucracy rules these things constantly delay projects and increase costs. In small towns where things work more relationally, things go so much smoother.
- God loves to work in overlooked people and places. The Apostle Paul points out that God specializes in working in great ways among overlooked people (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Maybe this is part of the reason we are seeing God do amazing things in out of the way places.
- Jesus was from a small town. In Jesus’ day, many people wrote him off because he was from backwoods Nazareth. (John 1:45-46) Today, as well, people don’t expect great things from small towns. But now as then, they are wrong.
- People in small towns need God. Just like in big cities, people’s lives are hurt and their relationships are broken in rural areas. We need to start vibrant, Jesus-centered, life-giving communities doing Jesus’ ministry in small towns. Seeing Jesus’ do amazing things in people’s lives is what keeps us jazzed and targeting more and more small towns for church planting.
I invite you to join Jesus as he sends us out to share the gospel and spread his healing from “village to village” (Luke 9:6). What stories do you have of God doing big things in small towns?