Sheryll and I have had the privilege of starting and pastoring 3 churches. Our church, LifeGate Church in Villa Rica, also has 2 campuses with more on the way. Our campuses are all led and taught by the campus pastors because she and I have always had a passion to see other couples released into effective ministry. Of those 5 churches we have been part of starting, 4 are in small towns, ranging in population from about 1500 to almost 25,000. I love pastoring, and I especially love pastoring in a small town environment. And here’s why:
1. I consider it a privilege.
Most small town churches operate with a smaller resource pool than their urban and suburban relatives. A few years ago, Sheryll and I were having a conversation while traveling about how it seemed some churches had way more resources than we did, even though we may have been larger. So she just started researching the demographics and here’s what we found:
a. Our town has a larger percentage of families living at or near the poverty line.
b. We have a larger percentage of single parent households.
c. Our median family income was less than the median single income in most of the urban or suburban areas we researched!
As Sheryll read these statistics I began to understand what a privilege and honor it is for God to choose you to lead a church in these areas. He could have chosen anyone to start and pastor a church in a town that won’t have as many resources available as in some other areas. But He chose us, so He must think we can do it and that is an honor and a privilege.
2. A small town church can gain great influence and become a ‘gatekeeper’
in their city much quicker than one in a large urban/suburban area.
Some sources say a church must represent 2% of the city population to have a significant impact in that community. Our church represents about 8% of our city’s population and I have a friend in central Georgia whose church represents 21% of their city’s population! When we pastored in a large suburban area, gaining influence within our city was tough. But in our small town, we have been able to become a force for the Kingdom rather quickly.
3. In a small town it doesn’t take long before everyone knows who you are.
That can be good and it can be bad. It means you don’t get to remain anonymous so your successes and your struggles are played out in public. It means when you go through something unpleasant with your staff or high-level volunteers that you won’t get to go through it ‘under the radar’. But it also means you get to ‘pastor a community’ more easily than you could in a larger urban/suburban area. Everybody knows you’re a pastor, and in most small towns that still carries some weight. So you get the opportunity to speak into people’s lives, even those who don’t and won’t attend your church. At the grocery store, in a local restaurant, on the ball fields, people in your community will engage in conversations and ask questions that open the door for you to share the life-giving message of Jesus in practical ways. You, and the other pastors in your town, really do get to ‘pastor a community’.
4. In a small town it’s often much easier to do what Paul talks about in
1 Thessalonians 2:8
“…Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” You get to do life with your community and it’s easier to find ways to become part of that community. For instance, when we first moved to Villa Rica we didn’t know anybody. So we started looking for ‘3rd Spaces’—those places people like to hang out when they aren’t at home, work or school. We started having breakfast or lunch at a neat little restaurant in our downtown area that was very popular. Every time we were there we met new people, people who had influence with others. Sheryll noticed there was a large group of ladies who played tennis regularly at some local courts and she became part of that group. We didn’t go to the restaurant or join the tennis community to get people to come to our church. We did it to become part of the community, to make friends, but as a result there have been numerous people from both who become part of our lives and part of LifeGate Church.
There’s many more reasons why I love pastoring in a small town but you get the idea. I believe every small town in America deserves a great life-giving church and that’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about SmallTown.Church. I want to meet other small town pastors and leaders. I want to hear how God is leading you to reach your area. I want more small town pastors as friends. If you have the privilege of pastoring in a small town, please consider joining our relational network and let’s change small town America together. Simply go to the website, Facebook page, or text JOIN to (770) 691-0513.