As a pastor, I attend A LOT of meetings, conferences, trainings, and events where we listen to other clergy talk about what is going well in their church, how they are getting new people in the door, and how they are reaching people, young and old. That’s wonderful and great. But the problem is that none of these churches are in towns of 900 people where people are just simply not moving into. I often get frustrated that it’s always about the numbers and how many people are being “reached for Christ” when all I hear are the voices of people that reside in areas and cities that are naturally growing and expanding. What about those of us placed in small rural areas where massive growth in numbers is simply not a realistic option?
It seems that the odds are stacked against us at times:
-There are 900 people in our town- many do not attend church. Many do not have an interest. Even if they did have an interest, there are at least 5 churches to choose from. How to reach them so that they might be interested in OUR church?
-In a small rural Indiana, we are a church that has a young female pastor and somewhat progressive views. Unfortunately, this will not attract many in our area. But we are who we are, and there are many reasons to be proud of that!
-We are an aging congregation and very few young people reside or are moving into the area since young families usually prefer the bigger city or suburban life. So what does that mean for us in the next 10-15 years?
So significant growth in numbers is not necessarily a realistic goal, although we have brought in several new families and people in the 1.5 years I’ve been here and we’ve added a monthly youth group where the youth and children are more involved. That’s something to celebrate.
We are also THE congregation in town that welcomes ALL persons while other churches are not so welcoming. We celebrate that over and over again.
For me in this congregation, growth is more about how we can grow spiritually, how we can grow in our relationship with God, how we can grow as a community of faith that loves and cares for each other. It’s about expanding our hearts to reach out even more to the community and expanding our minds to be challenged by scripture and our ever changing culture and the issues it is dealing with. Growth is about growing together as the kingdom of God.
The mission of the UMC is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” This is an active statement that means that we cannot simply sit back and wait for people to come to us- we must take the church and Jesus to them in many ways. The challenge for our little church is to find the energy and the resources so we might do just that. We also must continue to grow in our spirituality, our knowledge, and our sense of community. That is how churches in small communities grow and expand. And with a little patience, we will one day look up and realize that we have been growing all along. Just not in the way one might expect.