Places of the heart: Rural church at crossroads – UMC.org


Check out this article regarding the small church. I have grabbed a few quotes and facts, but would encourage you to read the complete article and offer your opinion or thoughts.

“Entering a sanctuary that holds the tangy, old-wood scent of an antique shop, congregants catch up on news about far-flung children and grandchildren, and buck each other up through the maladies of aging and the routines of retirement.

The church cannot afford bulletins. But the 15 worshippers do not need them. The order of worship is as familiar and reassuring as a favorite recipe.

They share joys and concerns — one celebrates a local crafts fair she visited, the pastor expresses delight that his granddaughter lost a tooth. They pray, sing beloved hymns like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” recite The Apostles’ Creed taped to the front of their 1966 Cokesbury hymnals, take up an offering and listen to a sermon.”

Quick facts:

Total number of United Methodist churches in U.S.: About 33,500*

Number of rural churches in 2009: Slightly more than 20,000**

Total number of U.S. churches in 2000: 35,947

Total number of rural churches in 2000: About 23,400

Clergy serving non-rural U.S. churches in 2009, including retired clergy: 11,600

Clergy serving rural churches: About 13,900

Full elders serving non-rural churches: 10,700

Elders in rural churches: 5,980

*Numbers based on self-reporting to the General Council on Finance and Administration.

**Rural churches are defined as those in counties where there are 200 or fewer people per square mile. Number determined by matching churches with county codes and matching that with U.S. Census data. Not every United Methodist church in the U.S. reports its county code. All numbers are estimates.

Source: General Council on Finance and Administration

“From a larger denominational perspective, there are concerns about the wisdom of keeping open four churches within a few miles of each other for just 16 official members.

The United Methodist Church has far more buildings than it needs, admits the Rev. Roger Grace, president of the United Methodist Rural Fellowship. Many were built when the main mode of transportation was a horse, and people only could travel a few miles to get to church.

“The ties many times are to the building, and it’s very difficult for people to let go emotionally,” Grace says. “If you think rationally and logically, it’s not that difficult a choice. But if you think with your heart instead of your mind, this is what happens. There is a real sense of failure if people let go of their church.”

Denominational leaders also worry that preserving smaller, “family” congregations limits outreach to newcomers. In Carthage, for example, the population is largely African American, but the four nearest United Methodist churches are all white.

And yet there is something both Wesleyan and Christlike in the efforts of members of even the smallest churches to keep faith alive in their communities, advocates for such churches say.”

“Each rural church is different, however. Many respondents to the rural fellowship survey say their congregations are relatively healthy.

Often, rural church leaders say, the denomination has fallen short in giving them the support they need for revival.

These churches worry about their long-term finances and would like greater support in repairing aging facilities. Survey respondents also express concern that the pastors appointed to their charge lack understanding of the rural context, and many say they feel alienated from the wider United Methodist connection.”

And these final thoughts ~

“Closing is not necessarily a bad thing, says Grace of the United Methodist Rural Fellowship.

Churches are living organisms, and they all have a life expectancy, he says. He points out that the book of Revelation was addressed to seven churches that no longer exist.

“When a person dies, you celebrate their life and mourn their passing, and life universal goes on,” Grace says. “I think the same goes on with the church. When a church dies, you celebrate the good, you mourn their passing, but the church universal goes on.””

 

Places of the heart: Rural church at crossroads – UMC.org.

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