One hundred years ago, America was largely a rural nation. In fact, by some estimates, 90% of the population of the country would have been involved in one way or another with agriculture and with the growing and harvesting of our food. Today that number has dropped to somewhere between 2% and 5%.
Our country has changed significantly in the last 100 years, not the least of which is our move away from the agrarian ideal. So too has the church changed, and in particular has the rural church changed. Kent R. Hunter in his book The Lord’s of the Harvest and the Rural Church published in 1993 defined the rural church this way:
A rural church is a congregation of Christian people who live an agriculturally oriented life-style. It is a church made up of a people group who belong to the agriculture community.
By Hunter’s definition, I am no longer sure if there is such a thing as a rural church. When I look at my own congregation I see a changing demographic that can perhaps be categorized into three groups.
- Those currently involved in agriculture.
- Those who grew up in families involved in agriculture but who are no longer involved in agriculture themselves.
- Those who have never been involved in agriculture.
Fifty years ago, group one would have been the majority of the congregation. Today, group two is the majority and I suspect that in another 20 – 30 years, group three will be the majority.
And so as this shift continues, I wonder if perhaps Hunter’s definition is no longer helpful. Churches in small, rural locations after all still exist and have far different needs, challenges and opportunities than their urban counterparts.
Is a new definition needed?
I am not one to worry about definitions but I am concerned that we have not fully realized and understood the change that is taking place. I’d like to continue to explore the topic and will continue to reflect on Hunter’s book as I read.
What I would really like is to see a conversation taking place.
Please feel free to leave your comment and to pass this article on to your rural friends.
You can find The Lord’s of the Harvest and the Rural Church at Amazon. [affiliate link]