Disaffiliation Rumors, Myths, and Opportunities # 6 – Appointments, Communications, and Rural/Small Churches

This post originally appeared on my Facebook page, facebook.com/j.lemastersmith, on January 30th, 2023

Another rumor circulating is that The UMC does not care about the small and rural church (you could also include immigrant, ethnic, and inner-city churches, but I also know less about those systems). Some responses:

“We ask for a licensed local and are forced to take an elder.”

“We get pastors who don’t want to be here, because we’re a stepping stone church.”

“Our pastors don’t live in our community or want to spend time here.”

“The curriculum isn’t written for us, it’s written for big churches in the suburbs!”

This rumor, to me, feels like the most real. The rural church very much feels forgotten. There is quite a bit of research done on this. The same is true for smaller church in general.

There are few reasons why this feels the most true:

1) The greater UMC operates on a trickle down or come to the source communication style, instead of a take it to the churches information style (mailers and emails don’t count).

2) The publishers have to make some money, and larger suburban churches are the most likely to spend money on a resource.

3) Our appointment system has consistently felt less call/gift based and more “fill the hole” based.

4) They feel like they are paying for a full time pastor who is only working part time because that pastor does not understand small and rural church culture because we don’t teach it in our schools. Thus, the pastors don’t visit, don’t learn the community, don’t connect with the history. These are all not entirely true, but they feel true to the rural church. However, these are all changeable. And I see it happening. But, for some local churches, it feels too late.

Still, in my heart, I know this isn’t true, but more effort needs to be put into connecting with and empowering and small rural churches, so that they know they are not alone, they have resources available, and that our conference is working to do more than simply fill the spot. I already know our appointment process is getting more creative. I know that we are going to have to move to the bi-vocational and cooperative parish model. I know there is work being done to empower and enable laity to serve creatively. And I know folks (myself included) who are working to shift the communication, education, and formational systems.

So, if you’ve left for this reason, I understand. But if you haven’t ripped the band-aid off, I encourage you to stay, to work with me, and to help build a better denomination.

2 thoughts on “Disaffiliation Rumors, Myths, and Opportunities # 6 – Appointments, Communications, and Rural/Small Churches

  1. At the same time, our conference has taken the approach of heavily trying to recruit people to become Certified Lay Ministers, which may be a tweak on the cooperative parish concept, as a means of filling these rural and smaller church spots. The need for pastoral ministry to these smaller, graying churches is a field (pun intentional) that is “white unto harvest”, and after such an appeal during a Lay Servant “Called to Preach” course session the other night, it is weighing heavily on me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m actually a Lay Minister in my conference for two small rural churches, and I love it. They threw me in before I did the paperwork because of my degrees.

      So I’m working backwards.

      I think it does offer better ideas and creative potential, and I strongly suggest it.

      Liked by 1 person

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