When I was asked to write an article regarding Rural Church Leadership, my first thought was: “another task?” If you’re a Pastor/leader in a rural church, you know what I mean. My next thought was, “CSBC is always so supportive, so it’s a small way for me to give back.” So, I’m honored to add another chore to the “Acuteness of the Tyranny of the Urgent.”
My wife Alice and I were NAMB church planters in Nevada before the Lord called us back to Redding to revitalize our church (PC3) from its death throes. My personal experience and background in both the entrepreneurial world and corporate administration and sales have been foundational in my ministry because we wear a host of hats in small and rural churches. But no matter how many hats we wear, our bottom line has always been to care for the spiritual well-being of others.
Whether urban, rural, or in-between, our main ministry is to reach people for Christ and to care for God’s Kingdom. But, for those leading in a rural setting, dealing with its dynamics, I’ve read, is like “figuring out a Rubik’s cube.” The harder we try to organize the pieces, the more puzzling the disarray becomes. So, rural requires a somewhat different skill set than urban churches, and perseverance is a mainstay because rural ministry is truly an art, not a science.
Experience shows that going from A to B to C doesn’t bring us the desired results of D (a bounce house, Facebook advertising, and giveaways don’t bring 120 to church on Easter). Doing this and that doesn’t achieve this or that (whatever that is). This means relationships are more important than needed organizational structures.
Palo Cedro is a rural community (population: 2,931) and self-identifies as such. Yet there are 5 evangelical churches within 1.5 miles on the main drag. Additionally, we’re only 5 miles from Redding, with its multitude of mid-size and large churches that attract much of the local population. Those attending PC3, many not from Palo Cedro, are looking for a more intimate church setting where their gifts and talents can be used. As such, it’s not location, location. location, but relationship, relationship, 1-on-1 relationship.
The second main function (of many main functions) is to recruit, raise, train, motivate, and empower new leaders (also known as “catch and release”). This can often be quite messy, with a fair amount of fallout. Stay the course because miracles do happen! And while rural churches are often a funnel to larger congregations, the members that remain become the lifeblood of our little rural churches!
Bringing in urban values and culture can and will isolate us as leaders, so it is vital to assimilate both the culture of the community with the culture of the church. It takes both to comprehend and become part of what drives the collective. Over the past 5 years, PC3 has participated in all the community events with an intentional focus on children’s activities. We’ve joined the local Chamber of Commerce and the local Parks Committee.
Investing in and becoming an active part of the community helps us to understand it, build trust, achieve relevance, and gain influence (and a voice) in the community. For example, I was made the honorary Mayor of Palo Cedro last year. For a while, it felt as though we were wasting manpower, time, and resources. Then, God revealed to me PC3’s faithful and committed members as a result. I’m running out of word count, so let me go with a stream of consciousness about rural leadership, and please make sense of it as you will!
1. Dream big but accept small.
2. Have a mindset of growth, but don’t pay attention to the numbers! (Redefine growth to spiritual, not numerical).
3. Build relationships with newcomers but not at the expense of your regulars.
4. Trust God! He’s got this!
5. Become social media/advertising experts.
6. Be a networker… put people together!
7. Teach and encourage your church to care for and enter into relationships with other attendees.
8. Even in church plants, be prepared for the eventual hits, harms, and hurts.
9. There are no failures in outreaches (they just become in-reaches!)
10. Focus on the good that’s happening even though it’s easier to be overwhelmed by what’s not happening. The drag-downs and discouragement will overwhelm you otherwise.
11. BE HUMBLE and TEACHABLE.
12. There is more wisdom within the crowd than in our own isolated minds.
14. Ask for help.
15. (This is where you add your own!)
So, rural church leader – keep on keepin’ on, and keep the main thing the main thing!
Jeff Needleman is the Pastor of Palo Cedro Community Church (also known as PC3). He has a B.A. from Simpson Christian University. Jeff and his wife Alice have been married for 35 years, and together they have 3 children: Adam, Noah, and Jeremy and 1 grandchild named Max. During his free time Jeff enjoys playing his guitar.
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