America’s rural share of the population has dropped from 95 percent in 1810 to 55 percent in 1910 to 20 percent in 2010. And there’s no turnaround in sight. It’s a fact that makes tens of millions of rural Americans defensive about their place in our national life. They feel under threat, according to Robert Wuthnow, professor of social sciences at Princeton University and author of a new book, The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America. A native of Kansas, Wuthnow has interviewed hundreds of rural Americans and found deep concern “that their way of life is eroding, shifting imperceptibly under the feet, and being discredited and attacked from the outside.”
You can imagine that this feeling pervades many rural churches as well. To discuss the significance of Wuthnow’s findings for church leaders, I reached out to Stephen Witmer, pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts. Stephen earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge and teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He also helps lead Small Town Summits, which partners with The Gospel Coalition New England to serve rural churches and pastors.
Witmer is a native of rural Maine, and we’ve bonded over our mutual appreciation for the overlooked places and, not coincidentally, the writing of Wendell Berry. In this conversation we discuss the moral obligations of rural communities, media influences, church dynamics, and more.
- Going Small with a Big Gospel in New England (Stephen Witmer)
- Remember the Rural: Does Modern Church Planting Overemphasize the City? (Michael Kruger)
- Reviving the Dying Small-Town Church (Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra)