We are the largest non-Catholic denomination in the country. We have a number of megachurches. We … well, you get the picture. Even though the Southern Baptist Convention is declining in numbers, we are still big.
But being big is not necessarily biblical; faithfully serving Christ is. The determination of where we will serve should not be based on any man-made or demographic strategy, but on a call from God. His will may seem puzzling to us, but His wisdom in carrying out His will should also amaze us.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, our country’s rural population is “shrinking for the first time on record.” Why? Fewer births, more deaths, and more younger adults moving to more urbanized areas. But the rural population is also decreasing because some areas previously classified as rural are now classified as urban.
About 72 percent of America’s land is considered rural and is home to 46 million people. Far more people live in cities. The North American Mission Board states that 83 percent of Americans live in urban areas and has identified 32 “Send Cities,” where resources and church-planting efforts are concentrated. NAMB’s website has this statement: “It has been said if you reach the cities, you’ll reach the nations. NAMB has prioritized its work in the cities with the greatest need and potential influence throughout North America.”
It makes sense to focus evangelistic efforts where more people are — if the bottom line is growth in numbers. But when the bottom line is faithfulness and obedience to Christ and the commission He gave the church, then the calling to serve is not limited to the biggest population centers.
The late Francis Schaeffer wrote: “Nowhere more than in America are Christians caught in the 20th-century syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc. This is not so. Not only does God not say that size and spiritual power go together, but He even reverses this and tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us.”
Eric Metaxas and Stan Guthrie recently wrote: “A lot of us want to do great things for the Lord. But great doesn’t necessarily mean big. In America, the ‘non-metro’ areas have lost an average of 43,000 residents every year since 2010. Job prospects in the countryside are falling, and poverty rates are rising. So it’s hardly surprising that urban and suburban ministry is a focus for so many. But what about the lost sheep scattered in the countryside? As you might expect, their churches are shrinking, and their pastors are disappearing.”
How many church planters are financially supported or encouraged to start churches in these rural areas? More people are in cities, so more money is allocated, and more people go into the cities to serve. Are they any more called than the missionaries and pastors who feel led to reach people in the country? Are there rural areas of our country that need help in supporting a pastor?
Metaxas and Guthrie continue: “We’re all familiar with Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep, in which a man leaves his 99 sheep to find the one that is missing. But a lot of pastors today, in their understandable passion to minister to the 99, have left the one all alone.”
NAMB states that it is also allocating resources to underserved areas of the country. That’s good news, and we can hope and pray that underserved rural areas will not be overlooked. When people are called to serve, where they serve is up to the one who called them. Churches, mission boards, state conventions, etc., are at their best when they help the “called” do the work God has led them to do.
Not everyone is called to plant or pastor a church, go overseas, or even move to another state, but some are. What about the ones who stay at home? Every disciple of Christ is called to serve faithfully and obey God where he or she is planted. After Jesus cast a legion of demons out of a man in the region of the Gerasenes, the changed man wanted to go with Jesus across the lake to another area. In Mark 5:19, Jesus said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”
In Revelation 2:10, Jesus told the Church at Smyrna, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The size of the ministry, ministry field or city should not be the impetus for serving; faithfulness in serving wherever God leads should be. While we seek to reach the masses in urban areas, let us never forget to support those in rural areas whose souls are just as valuable.