Rural Church Killer # 2: “Us 4 and No More!”

In Rural America you will find some of the friendliest and most loving congregations anywhere. New believers and new families are welcome and are given the red carpet treatment. There are a few churches though, that taint the whole batch. They are the “us 4 and no more” churches. They are closed, cold, and unable to realize anything that comes close to the Great Commission.

They are suspicious of new people. They don’t like new people. They do their best to deter new people. They threaten their pastor if he even steps across the street to welcome a new arrival in the community. They have become a social gathering rather than a living body. They are wrong. They are not biblical and they are doing harm far beyond their own pews. The stories that people tell after making the mistake of visiting these churches are legendary. We have all heard some story of some old lady rebuking some visitor in some church somewhere for sitting in her crusty old pew. Now, I am very sure that this has happened but IT HAS NOT HAPPENED IN EVERY RURAL CHURCH OR EVEN THE MAJORITY OF THEM!

Unfortunately these few churches, who I believe are an extreme minority, have tainted the whole batch of rural churches. People really think that the majority of us are closed to the public. They really think that they will feel unwelcome if they visit. Those “us 4 and no More” churches are certainly killing themselves but they are also hurting churches who are mission minded. They are hurting rural churches who have a real desire to reach their communities with the Gospel. The rest of us have become guilty by association.

What do you think? Have you ever stumbled into one of these churches?

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Published in: on July 31, 2008 at 1:40 pm  Comments (15)  

15 Comments

  1. I agree with you here. However, I beleive that it is more widespread but more subtle. Most churches speak of their desire for new people, and encourage their pastor to visit new people. They rejoice as new people visit on Sundays. However they go to war against those same people when new ideas are spoken. How dare a new person speak in a congegrational meeting. I mean really, they have only been attending for five years. So new people are welcomed as long as they conform to our ways of doing things.

  2. “How dare a new person speak in a congegrational meeting. I mean really, they have only been attending for five years.”

    That is both funny and sad. In most rural settings you will always be the new guy if you were not born there. I think you could be right with the subtle nature of the “us 4 and no more” mentality. Subtle or not the attitude is a killer. If a rural church is going to be a healthy church it must figure out how to be mission minded. It must figure out how to incorporate new blood in real and tangible ways.

  3. In reading the quote I see I mispelled “Congregational”. Sorry ’bout that.

    Since, most rural churches are small churches, we must ask ourselves if those attending do so because it is small. Often, rural people do have a choice to remain in their small church or attend a larger regional church. Many choose the small church because they like the family atmosphere. When others “invade” the family there is a sense in which the family members feel threatened. Yes, we believe in the Great Commision and realize that our neighbors are lost in sin and desperatley need the gospel. However, we like what we have and don’t want to lose it. With new comers change is inevitable. This makes us uncomfortable. So we often would rather that new comers adapt or go elsewhere. They are welcome so long as they don’t rock the boat.

  4. The other dynamic here is simple demographics. We don’t see new people very often. When growth is slow rural churches adapt to new people much easier. When a church is on the edge of suburban growth and is “invaded” by many people quickly the rural church sometimes balks and cannot adapt.

    I like the small family atmosphere. I think it is a distinctive that can either be a help or a hindrance. The small rural church that is succesful finds new ways to expand the family and keep the small church atmosphere.

  5. “Mission-Minded” can also be a buzz word for “We like to talk about missions on WMU night.” In other words, “It’s in our mind, but not our DNA.” It’s supposed to be in our DNA. I think Tom is right in saying many churches pay lip service to the desire to grow, only so long as the cost is NOT changing the church dynamic.

    I heard this a lot at seminary, something like, “It’s not a sin to be a small church, but is if your community is dying and going to hell.” I agree. Any living thing that doesn’t grow will die, and any living thing that can’t adapt, won’t grow, and thus will die. It may be a slow death.

    That looks different depending on the context. We’re rural on the edge of suburbia. I understand Mike to be rural on the edge of rural! Tom, I don’t know your context, but would be interested to find out. If your community consists of 500, mostly churched, your growth will look different than if you have access to thousands of people within 10 miles of the church. In any case, I agree whole heartedly about this killer. Good series of posts.

  6. I use “mission minded” like Nehemiah uses the phrase “the people had a mind to work”. I have just not come to terms with using “Missional” and “Incarnational” yet. I know one day I will have to use them. . . but I am holding out! I think we play the semantics game a little too much.

    It doesn’t matter how many words we have for doing missions unless the people “have a mind to work”. Unless there is heart change in the people they can use mission minded, missional, or incarnational and they will still be dying.

    You are right though Josh. Mission Minded must, at some point, turn into action and a willingness to accept a little change or this killer will come calling.

  7. My Context.

    I pastor an EFC in South Central Nebraska. Our community has 375 people in town and another 400 in the surrounding county. We are seven miles from our county seat with 5500 people. The entire county has about 9500 people. The county population is inching smaller every year. We are 40 miles from the closest Walmart in a town of 30,000. My people are mostly grain and/or livestock producers. NU football is the dominant religion but most would claim some affiliation with a church. Lutheran is the dominant church in the county but oddly enough there are no Lutheran churches in the Loomis community. Plenty of folks travel the seven – ten miles or so to find one however. The broader Loomis community has 2 EFCs, an Evangelical Covenant, and a very independant fundamental baptist with Landmark and Ruckman views. Our’s and the IFB are the only churches in town. The pastor and I get along well and have done a few community services together but mostly they stick to themselves.
    Our community is quickly changing from predominantly longstanding stable middle class families to newer poor and broken families.
    Our church was founded in 1886. I arrived in the fall of 1994. At the time the church was averaging about 50. Almost imediately we grew to 70. Over the last 14 years our attendance has bounced back and forth between 60 and 90. This has been my only church. I have an M-div from TEDS (1995). I grew up in South Jersey just inland from Atlantic City. I was raised in an Independant Baptist church and then moved to an EFC church plant while in highschool.

    Hope this helps

  8. Wow Tom. You just received the most rural guy on my blog award. I can relate to the community change. It is happening in a lot of rural communities. With the change in community we have inherited big city problems.

  9. Thanks Tom. We are all clearly in similar but different situations. Ours is quickly becoming a place for rich older people to retire. There’s a new neighborhood about a mile down the road for rich horse breeders where the lots start at about 150,000 to 200,000. I’ve shared this with Mike, but we’re Rural and becoming Suburban. We have 3 Wal-Marts within a 20 minute drive! Our killer is no one wants to admit our landscape is changing.

  10. Mike,

    I have to agree with you that these churches are not the majority. Most rural churches are very welcoming. There is more than a little truth to the “family” identity issues of which you refer, but they are usually overcome with time and much love and appreciation.

    Les

  11. $200,000 per lot. What a bargain! Where do I sign? Three Wal-Marts. Man you are not turning into a suburban church. . . . Little Mountain is there. I don’t think I realized how much of the city was knocking on your door. I would be shocked to find out that no one has planted a church close by.

  12. Les,

    Thank you for the reminder that we must lead with love through the issues. Most of the time they can be over come with a little patient leadership. Rare is the church that just won’t turn.

  13. Little Mountain is there, but again they don’t admit it. “We’re just a little ol’ country church,” is a constant refrain. And they are, and the community was. Peach fields, dirt roads, etc. As rural as it gets. Don’t get the impression that it’s not still rural. Where the church is, it is rural, but is becoming suburban/rural. It will never be like the suburbs of Raleigh. But as I’ve said, the Upstate of SC is experiencing growth, and Little Mountain Church is right on the outskirts of it. The lots are fairly big, minimum 5 acres, but 200,000? Some were more. They eventually took the lot prices down b/c they weren’t selling as rapidly as hoped. There are some homes in there though.

    You’re (Mike and Les) exactly right about patience. That’s the primary lesson God is teaching me. I very much want it all now. They’ve come along in many ways (and I’ve come along in a few others). I honestly don’t know who’s growing more from my pastorate at LMB.

  14. Next Killer: The 21st century

  15. mike,I had missed hearing from you the last 3 or 4 weeks. Yes I have ran accross churches that are not very freindly and I’ve ran across churhes thast are too freindly, their not very sincere and it shows if you look for it. Give our love to your family and God bless you and your work,Bob & Frances


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