Missional Living In Rural Communities
After the great discussion that we’ve been having over at my post on missionality & location, someone asked a great question. Having explored ideas about missionality in suburban and urban contexts, what about being missional in rural contexts? Having grown up in a small town, this is something I have given a great deal of thought to. In fact, if it were not for my clear calling to the urban context, I would live in a rural setting in a heart beat (oh yeah, that and my wife would die of boredom).
Many people ask us how we live in an inner city context with all the problems and challenges. While there are serious issues and many sacrafices, it isn’t actually that difficult to be missional there. Of course it is demanding, but because the church has largely abandon these communities, you can pretty much do whatever you want, daring to explore the missional possibilities with a freedom otherwise unknown. Small towns are, in many ways, far more difficult to be missional in.
Whenever I visit my folks in my old home town of Rainy River, ON, we get to talking about what it means to truly engage the community as a congregation. It doesn’t take long to find how deeply rooted traditions and models are, making the idea of change and innovation very difficult. Of course, these problems occur in every context, but rural contexts are generally more parochial both in the church culture and the wider community itself. Further, as failures become fairly widely known in a very short time, it can be a very unforgiving context to experiment.
At the same time, rural contexts offer wonderful advantages. The very thing that often makes these communities overly insular also contributes to genuine community. Further, the spheres of influence in the community (i.e. education, commerce, politics, etc.) are so closely connected, that there is amazing potential for a faith community to have a significant impact on the very fabric of the area. While not driven by size or “success”, a small community can present some achievable goals that can be hard to see in large, urban and suburban contexts.
What do you think? What does it mean to be missional in a rural context? What doesn’t work? Have you seen models of missional community in rural areas?
P.S. I have always had a dream of working with a group of people who are passionate about missionality to partner with a church in a small town on experimenting with missionality. I know I am biased, but I think Rainy River would be an ideal location. Dare to dream, eh?