Why Rural Matters

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I fully understand that the title of this article is not popular in today’s church planting world. We’ve gone all-in on cities, and large cities at that. We talk a lot about NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, Houston, and more. I’m 100% on board with that emphasis and in full support. So why write about rural?

It would be easy to be dismissive of rural America from the vantage point where I write from … both literally and figuratively. Sitting next to the window in a 4-story mixed use building above a busy intersection I have a bird’s eye view of the pulse and life of a city (albeit in Portland). I watch pedestrians walk across the street to stop in for coffee at the cafe below us. I watch people on bikes make their way into the downtown for work. Then there’s the constant movement of car traffic. I live in the city and I love the city. No conspiracy theories here. I even teach on cities in the classroom on a couple of university campuses every day.

With that said, I’m also mindful of the plight of rural communities. And even when I write “rural” I know there’s an enormous discrepancy between what you think of rural versus what I think of rural. My vantage point is out West. Like a branch from an apple tree that has been severed … while the apples don’t die immediately they soon begin showing signs of loss of nutrients. The same with these rural communities that I see dotted throughout the West. Most often the best talent leaves for the city. Historic industries close their doors and things continue to spiral downward.

So what happens when the church planting focus and even funding gets redirected towards cities? Like I said, I teach on cities on a daily basis so I’m aware of the trends of urban growth and urbanization. These urban vs. rural disparities will only get worse. But that is the point ….

Shouldn’t these places also be a focus of mission?

The challenge and problem though … they’re not cool nor alluring. They don’t look that hot on your Instagram feed. I’m sure most church planters look at these places as their graveyard or leftovers. I get that, but at least we need to address the obvious and acknowledge the tension.

This is not a call to abandon our work in cities. Instead, it’s an attempt to elevate the forgotten and places off the map. Conversely, it’ll take a completely different strategy to ensure a long term presence in these communities. It’s probably more akin to what we read and saw in urban ministry 30-40 years ago. The only difference is now we’re talking rural.

So what does this mean for me? For you? Yes, while cities do matter rural matters as well.