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Small Town, Great Commission: Heralding Christ in Rural America

Small Town, Great Commission: Heralding Christ in Rural America

One of the joys of the reformed faith is its evangelistic pedigree. From Calvin’s Geneva to Judson’s love for Burma, those who embrace the doctrines of grace have a long history of commitment to sharing Christ with the nations.  

When it comes to rural America, evangelism has its challenges. Today’s post focuses on 4 commitments we must have for biblical evangelism in small towns. 

Presupposition 

We begin with a non-negotiable presupposition: Christ is worthy to be preached in every place. From popular urban centers to remote villages, our Lord Jesus is worthy to be heralded to all creation. 

It is statistically less likely for your church to see large numbers of persons converted in rural settings. For example, in a city with 100,000 people, if 1% responded positively to the gospel, you’d see 1,000 converts. If the math held true for a town with 1,000 people, you’d see 10 converts. 

God is sovereign. He will save whom He will for His own glory. But this presupposition, the worthiness of Christ to be proclaimed in all places, will help you from any discouragement associated with lack of “success” in evangelism in small towns. When we preach Christ rightly, there is no lack of success! Christ is being proclaimed, and He is worthy. 

Prayer

Secondly, evangelism should not be separated from prayer. Paul asks the Colossian church to “pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Col. 4:3). 

Churches in small towns must be committed to praying for opportunities for evangelism. They must also be committed to pray specifically for lost souls in their community. Periodically, the church ought to gather to intentionally pray for the banner of Christ to be lifted high within the town that you are located. 

God has placed your church in your rural community for a reason. And one of those reasons is that you would be concerned for the lost there and seek the Lord’s mercy on their behalf confident that God has “many in this city who are[His] people” (Acts 18:10).

Proclamation 

We must remember that evangelism is not ultimately an event or program, but proclamation of the gospel, which includes telling sinners what they must do to be saved, namely, repent and believe the gospel (cf. Mark 1:15). 

I’ve seen churches go wrong here in hosting well intentioned events that ultimately left out the gospel. Passing out water bottles with bible verses on them is certainly not a bad thing, but don’t confuse that with evangelism. In order to evangelize, we must communicate the gospel and a call to sinners to repent and trust it. 

There are three primary ways our church has sought to do this. First, we have committed to going door to door once a month for the purpose of sharing the gospel. This can be uncomfortable and there is certainly prudence that must be exercised here in terms of time of day, number of people going to the home, safety, etc. However, it is our belief that the church must seek to get the gospel out rather than merely expecting lost persons to walk in our doors. 

Is it not a shame that the heretical Jehovah Witnesses are the ones known for going door to door while too many of us with the true gospel of Christ stay at home? However this may look in your community, consider regularly and intentionally taking the gospel to the homes of your area. 

Secondly, we try to preach at our local grocery store once a month. This too can seem uncomfortable, but I encourage churches to consider their own local community and see whether or not something like this would be feasible. For years I had convinced myself that street preaching was just for the big cities. But this goes back to our presupposition: Christ is worthy to be proclaimed even if the crowd is not the size of George Whitefield’s! Find a store, or gas station, or street corner, and proclaim the gospel. You may be surprised by what God does. One thing we’ve noticed is that other churches have reached out to us encouraged by our evangelism. What if your faithfulness inspires other churches to be more serious about evangelism too? 

Finally, we like to flood our community with tracts. Tracts are not the be all end all of evangelism. They are really a low bar. You simply hand a tract to a cashier, or friend at the ball game, or man in line at the local donut shop. We make our own tracts and put our church website on them in hopes that some will check out more about the gospel and our local church. 

Persistence 

The final encouragement I have for evangelism in small towns is don’t give up. Ecclesiastes 11:1 says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” I once heard a pastor friend preach from that text exhorting us to sow many seeds when it comes to evangelism and to remember this important truth: “sow nothing, reap nothing.” 

You can convince yourself that your evangelistic efforts are weak and pathetic and will never return any fruit. But can I encourage you that weak evangelistic efforts are always better than no evangelistic efforts? So, don’t give up!

You may hand out a tract, or preach on the corner, or knock on a door and no one come to Christ. Yet, I can assure you that it is 100% guaranteed that no one will come to Christ if we do not proclaim the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:14-17). So, do not be discouraged. Continue to sow seeds and trust God with the return. 

Continue to look for opportunities that are unique to your area. For us, we’ve preached in our local Christmas and Fair Parades. We’ve preached at local festivals our town has hosted. We’ve gone to local events to pass out gospel tracts and talk with people. We’ve done some Christmas Caroling, which is not the same as evangelism, but we did use the opportunity to pass out gospel tracts. Last Christmas we also did “evangelistic letter writing” where we gathered one Sunday evening at our church, I shared the gospel, and then we wrote letters to lost persons in our community (and beyond) imploring them to understand what Christmas is about and to repent and believe the gospel. 

Each rural area is going to look a little different. But this truth remains: Your community is in desperate need of the gospel. Will your church commit to having the presupposition, prayer, proclamation, and persistence necessary to make Christ known in your specific area? 

Allen S. Nelson IV is the pastor of Perryville Second Baptist Church in Perryville, AR, where he resides with his wife Stephanie, and their 5 children. Allen is the author of From Death to Life: How Salvation Works and Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness . His other titles include blogger, rookie podcaster, and occasional conference speaker. Most importantly, he is a recipient of the undeserved grace of God.
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