As an observer of the multisite movement over the past 20 years, I get excited to see that the movement is growing in rural areas.
Whether you label the areas as exurban, fringe, or rural, it is pleasing to note that these places are becoming fertile ground for the multisite model.
The approach to rural multisite can be categorized in two ways: native and imported.
The “native” approach is defined by the presence of an already healthy base church in the rural setting. Many times, this church may have “imported” from a suburban or urban context. Over the years, this base church has morphed, changed, and been transformed into a more contemporary style church. These native churches then expand to other towns and cities in their region.
Those that pursue a “native church planting track” tend to be able to launch a new site with a smaller core team and group. They find good spaces to rehab and launch. They also have the benefit of the inside track when working with any government officials.
The “imported” approach happens when a suburban base church is usually already using the multisite approach and expanding their ministry. Often, as some of their congregation members begin moving further away from the larger city region, they begin to plant new sites in these rural areas.
Imported churches tend to bring a larger team and more resources to the task. They can get attention and advertising and bring a “big happening” mindset to the task. These tend to be a little larger at launch.
Why is the rural multisite movement happening?
- Rural areas are growing. While the growth is not as fast as suburban or urban contexts, in many regions of the country, people are starting to migrate to those areas.
- Those are “our people.” In the case of imported churches, there are often former members or residents where the suburban church was well known. As retirees and others move farther out, they naturally seek a “city type” church to affiliate with. For native churches, the ties are often kinship and history related. There is a close network based on many years of family, work, voluntary associations, etc, that have bound people in relationship.
- Some rural churches are about to close or are experiencing leadership transition. If you spend any time in rural areas, you will notice a lot of churches. However, many of these have few people that attend. Where in the past, many could be served by a bivocational pastor, that kind of person is becoming harder to find, especially those who would be willing to move to a new community. For this reason, many are opting to try to become smaller sites of a larger regional church. The joining congregation usually has no debt and some base of participation to bring to the table.
- No matter how many churches you see, there are lots of disconnected people. While rural areas tend to claim a higher level of religious participation, true attendance patterns are much bleaker. The ties are very weak, and like churches in other regions, there are lots of drop outs.
Dave Travis is the CEO of Leadership Network, an organization whose goal is to foster innovation movements that activate the church to greater impact for the Glory of God’s name. Dave will share more of his thoughts and research by Leadership Network at Aspen’s 2017 Alignment Conference. Register today.