Action plan proposal aims to strengthen rural congregations
April 2, 2004
A UMNS Feature By Linda Bloom*
rural United Methodist churches make up a little more than a third of
the denomination's membership, those congregations account for half the
overall membership loss in recent decades.
reverse that decline and provide other support to rural churches, an
action plan to implement the denomination's National Comprehensive Plan
for Town & Country Ministries has been proposed to the United
Methodist General Conference, meeting April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh.
goals of the action plan are to develop, support and affirm effective
ministries in rural cultures and contexts and develop, strengthen and
sustain effective leadership for town and country ministries.
of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries heard specifics
about the plan during their March 22-25 meeting in Stamford, Conn.
Rev. Alan Rice, a district superintendent from North Wilkesboro, N.C.,
and a member of the planning team, told directors that more than half --
20,203 of 35,670 -- of United Methodist congregations are rural, which
means they are found in areas with less than 200 people per square mile.
1982 and 2001, however, membership losses in rural congregations
accounted for half of the denomination's total loss of slightly more
than 1 million members. The denomination has 8.3 million U.S. members
and 1.9 million members in Africa, Asia and Europe.
"They are perishing and I want to know who cares," Rice declared.
fear that UMC now stands for "Upper Middle Class," he said it is time
for the denomination to make a radical change in how it deals with rural
2000 General Conference adopted a foundation document for Town &
Country Ministries, called "Born Again in Every Place," with
instructions that an implementation plan be developed over the next four
Fooshee, a team member and board director from Topeka, Kan., said
research has indicated many rural congregations feel "ignored within the
connection." The action plan is not concerned with "managing decline,"
he added, but encouraging bold mission steps.
action plan urges the denomination and its rural congregations to
"catch fire" by moving the focus "from a survival mentality to
self-sacrificing servanthood"; taking the initiative for Christ's
ministry "by activating themselves for service and witness"; using
resources available to them; and releasing energy and "letting it loose
for empowerment and promise."
the rural context and the varieties of rural culture is a task for the
church as a whole as well as for local congregations," the plan states.
While the local congregations must know their communities, it continues,
denominational leaders, especially those in annual (regional)
conferences with rural congregations, must "comprehend the complex
realities of contemporary rural life."
plan recommends the formation of a "general church team on town and
country ministries" to promote collaboration among church agencies. A
system of data collection and sharing is to be developed, and effective
models of ministry promoted.
terms of leadership, the plan acknowledges that town and country
churches are "increasingly served by licensed local pastors, lay
pastors, laity assigned and lay speakers. This is a pattern that is
likely to continue and expand in the future, and it is out of the grace
of God that The United Methodist Church recognizes and encourages the
pastoral capacities of the laity."
advocates the development of educational opportunities for both clergy
and lay leadership. A "town and country ministry toolkit" is one
resource suggested for training purposes.
action plan recognizes witness to Jesus Christ in both remote areas and
population centers. "Upholding and celebrating town and country
ministry provides a sense of wholeness and can re-awaken the family of
faith to our responsibility in all places," it says.
Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New
York. News media can contact Linda Bloom at (646) 369-3759 or