Someone has said God must love small churches because he made so many of them. While some may argue with that logic, there is no doubt that most churches are small churches.
Our Tennessee Baptist Convention is primarily composed of smaller membership churches. Approximately 2,200 of our 3,000 TBC churches have fewer than 100 people in Sunday school and most of those are rural churches. Each one of them matter to our Heavenly Father, and all of them have the potential to make an impact on their community and the world for Christ.
Our tendency toward “bigger being better” has led some to feel small churches can’t minister to the needs of their members as effectively as a larger church can. But in reality most rural churches are very effective in creating a sense of community and a healthy environment where both young and old can be nurtured in their faith.
One of the things I appreciate about the rural churches with which I am familiar is the way they care for their members. Whenever there is a death or sickness, the whole church mobilizes for action. In my first pastorate, I knew that when there was a death in the church, the hurting family would experience love and caring from their entire church family. Food would arrive in abundance and most all the congregation would be at the funeral home to show their love and support. The message the church expressed so beautifully to those who were grieving was, “You are family and when you hurt, we are here for you.” What a ministry!
That same spirit revealed itself in our outreach efforts as well. While we prayed for all the “lost,” we also had specific names and faces we were lifting up to God. Those faces were the husbands, children, parents, relatives, neighbors and friends of our church family. We knew them personally and rejoiced every time they came to church for some special event or program. We visited with them in their homes, invited them to church and shared our faith with them. We wept with their loved ones over their lostness and rejoiced with them when they were saved. In that respect, the evangelistic efforts of a rural church can truly represent “personal” evangelism.
Rural churches make an immeasurable impact on Baptist life in Tennessee. From the time of the pioneers, Baptists have made their presence known all across our great state through the ministry of congregations who, though small in number, allowed their passion for Christ to lead them beyond their limitations toward God’s preferable future of harvest and kingdom advance.
Steve Holt serves as director of the Church Services Group of the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s Executive Board office in Brentwood, Tennessee. Prior to coming to the TBC staff, Steve served for over 17 years as a pastor in Northeast Tennessee. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and phone is (615-210-4532).