In addition to reading the culture well and discerning how to best contextualize, here are five principles for small-town ministry and church planting:
1. Become a localized regular. Proximity makes a huge difference in small towns, and shopping local cannot be overlooked. Small-town leaders that avoid and ignore local businesses often do far more damage than they realize. Plus, they add more years to the process of being accepted in the community.
Of course, the greatest model we have for this concept is in Jesus himself. The Incarnation is the glorious example of Jesus leaving the realm of heaven to be localized as a “regular.” Sure, 30-plus years seems like a drop in the bucket compared to Jesus’ eternalness, but it certainly counts as becoming a local!
The most basic and fundamental reason as to why you should become a regular is because of relationship. If you go to the same coffee shop, the same hair salon, the same hardware store and the same place for groceries, you slowly build relationships. And the people who own those businesses and who work at those businesses will slowly see you as a committed part of the community … someone they can eventually trust. So become a regular at local places of business.
2. Have patience. As a guy who grew up in the church in the ’80s, I need to set the mood for this principle:
Yes. I grew up listening to (and singing!) this song.
Anyway, small towns do things slowly. So be patient. The relationships that you develop may take a long time to develop, and building trust may take a lot of time and effort. God can obviously do some great stuff naturally supernatural, but often times our ‘fast food’ Christianity is challenged in small towns.
For example, I have been going to the same local businesses for nearly eight years now and I’ve made some great friendships over the years, and some of those friendships are developing into relationships that center around Jesus. None of them happened overnight, and most of them took at least four years.
3. Invest in local events. Most small towns have events throughout the year that you could participate in. Fairs, parades and cleaning days are all excellent opportunities to put missional theology into practice. And again, you gain trust. Additionally, you learn about the people and their needs and can often gather people to join you in the Missio Dei.
Volunteering in your community for fundraisers and school events says a lot about serving, generosity and community … so go to it!