By Patrick Bowler
Valley Life Church (Lebanon, OR) 

For many in the church, there is an assumption that rural America is already largely evangelical. There are more churches per capita in nonmetropolitan communities than in metropolitan ones, so the small towns are labeled “reached” and sites are set on the “unreached” (i.e. cities). That assumption is a dangerous one; a high concentration of churches does not equate to high Gospel saturation.

It is not merely the urbanites that are guilty of the assumption that rural America is already largely “reached.” Small-towners are guilty, too. In smaller towns and smaller churches, church planting is seen as unnecessary. I can hear them in my head as I type; “There are enough churches in this town.” I remember overhearing a conversation between two people in a doctor’s office waiting room awhile back. They apparently attended the same church and were each awaiting the return of their spouse from behind the foreboding clinic doors.  The conversation was clearly one of criticism as each took a turn picking apart decisions that their particular church leadership had made. I cannot speak in detail to the source of their apparent conflict, but I was saddened at words something akin to this: “And what do we need a new baptistry for? We have one in the other room and it is never used.” If they don’t need new baptistries, why would they think they need new churches?

Church planting is viewed by the rural over-churched as something only larger churches in larger cities do. The unfortunate result is a rooting narcissistic sectarianism, which is antithetical to the biblical mission. Without a vision and a mechanism to send, a church just starts the egg timer on its life expectancy. Rural America is hardly “reached,” and this inside the doors of the church.

 They Look the Same To Me

As pastors, we hear a lot about the “de-churched” these days. The de-churched are those that grew up in church and have since departed. Might I broaden the term a bit? Though the term explicitly speaks of those who have walked away from the church and no longer attend, could it not also include those who have mentally walked away but still happen to attend? The urban de-churched and the rural over-churched look the same to me.

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