The Small and Rural Church – A Future of Hope

Whether located in towns, the farmlands, or out in the prairie, the North American Lutheran Church’s mainstay is small and rural congregations. While other faith communities look for ways to close and minimize these churches, the NALC values these parishes as they continue to seek avenues to enhance ministry and make disciples for Jesus. Like all other congregations, small and rural missions face both challenges and opportunities.

Small and rural churches deal with dwindling memberships, aging parishioners, lack of finances, older buildings, conflict, fewer resources, and memories of the past. While these challenges are real, they cannot thwart the resilience of these parishes and the opportunities. Too often in the church, we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “What do we need to “bring in” to do ministry, we should be asking, “What has God already blessed us with to do ministry?” The Holy Spirit continues to provide the small and rural church with the talents and abilities of its people to make Christ known in their communities.  

Sadly, many small and rural churches feel “less than” their larger counterparts. This is due to a lack of programming, size, and staff. The worst thing that a congregation can do is compare itself with another. Every church is different and has a unique opportunity to share Christ and his saving love. Specifically, what are some of the advantages of a small and rural congregation?

Relationships: In towns and villages, relationships are paramount. It is in these personal relationships where neighbors help others, and Christ can be shared. A smaller church is a natural place for these bonds to be nurtured and deepened. These relationships assist in developing and maturing discipleship. Aging- While many might conclude that an “aging church is a dying church,” they are missing the mark. While a majority of small and rural churches have older members, this should be recognized as an asset. Ministry and evangelistic efforts can be centered around this age group. Also, bringing older adults, teens, and younger children together in intergenerational ministry can enhance discipleship growth. 

 Participation: If a smaller congregation is going to prosper, then many will have to be involved in ministry. This is the beauty of this size church. The talents of the members are needed for service, outreach, and keep the parish going.  

Flexibility: While rural and village congregations may not be known for flexibility and nimbleness, they are. Smaller churches can respond more quickly to adapt and re-tool to changing situations in the communities that they serve. These advantages and others show why the small and rural congregation is the “backbone” of the Christian Church in America.

Realizing their value and importance in sharing faith, the Mission Office of the North American Lutheran Church, specifically the NALC Renewal Team, has developed an online course entitled, “Small and Rural Church Ministry.” This comprehensive learning module is structured with the following components:

  • Struggles
  • Importance of Relationships 
  • Gift of Aging and Intergenerational Ministry
  • Discipleship
  • Equipping
  • Outreach and Evangelism
  • Attitudes 
  • Technology and Digital Ministry. 

This course is easy to use and is recommended for pastors, church members, leadership teams, and others interested in strengthening small and rural ministry. We urge you to consider embarking on this continuing education journey and participating in an affirming teaching on ministry in towns and rural areas. This course is free to all NALC Members.  To access this course or for more information, please visit: https://bit.ly/SmallAndRuralChurch

While some may see the small town and rural church in a spiral of decline, clinging to former days, we see it with a “future of hope.” God is still using these congregations to build relationships, serve, and make disciples for Christ. As these congregations continue to be the “bread and butter” and majority of the NALC, let them be strengthened and renewed to witness Jesus.


For additional resources, please visit: The Small and Rural Church.

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