The first thing church members and pastors need to do to grow the church is to build on the solid rock of growing and living as disciples of Jesus.
Unfortunately, we who live in rural United States start first by searching for the next best program, which will save our church. Some of us continue to attend every conference and district meeting, workshop, class, webinar with the hopes the event will give us the answer to growing our church. Some of us are waiting for the next book, article, video that will give us the answers to motivate our church members to greater service, and bring the unchurched through our doors. Still others have slipped into despair feeling all is lost there is no hope for small rural churches.
However, the problem is not that the programs or books we read will not work. Rather the problem lies in that the programs and books assume we have a relationship with God; are committed to being and growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ; we are seeking God’s direction for our lives and our church. Our lives, and church, are like a parched desert yearning for the water of prayer, worship, and study. Nothing can grow because prayer, worship, and study are after thoughts to the god’s of sports, entertainment, and other leisure activities.
Jesus gives us a blueprint in the Sermon of the Mount, Matthew chapters 5-7. Jesus says in Matthew 7:36, “Every one then who hears these “words” of mine and does them will be like a man or woman who builds their house on the rock.” The “words” Jesus is referring to is everything between Matthew 5:1 - Matthew 7:23. Those words are the foundation to discipleship. They are not the only words we need to hear in the Bible, however, they are a great start. If we are not growing and living as disciples of Jesus, the best programs and books will not save our small membership churches.
I have great hope for the small membership church. I believe God’s Spirit is and will raise up churches who serve our smallest communities. In addition, most importantly we who serve, worship and live in small communities will grow as disciples to help others discover God’s grace and love.
Rural communities face many challenges. Which has causes me to ask:
Have we given up on God? Or have we given up on ourselves?
And, have we given up on the church? Or have we given up on our will to be the church?
I want to suggest that we, who live in rural places and worship in small rural churches, remember the absolute first thing needed to grow the church, is our decision to grow and live as disciples of Jesus.
Thanks for reading this blog. Please feel free to pass this on. I hope you will take time to visit the Lay Academy for Rural Church Ministry website and check out our training programs for Certified Lay Ministers and Workshops for local churches, districts, and conferences.