The Forgotten Church: Why Rural Ministry Matters for Every Church in America

Written by Glenn Daman Reviewed By Bobby L. Massey

Rural ministry matters, says Glenn Daman, who urges readers not to forget about the often marginalized and often overlooked rural areas in America. Glenn Daman is a well-educated, tenured pastor with a heart and vision for growing rural ministry. He summarizes his thesis in this way: “The goal and purpose of this book is that the church at large might understand the importance of and need for rural ministry, as well as identify ways that rural and urban churches can partner together to mutually encourage and strengthen the larger body” (p. 18). This book provides a practical guide for a better understanding of a rural worldview.

I read this book as one who lived and ministered in an East Asian city of eight million people for eight years before God called me to pastor a local church in rural South Carolina. My journey from urban Louisiana to urban East Asia was a massive leap of worldview. However, the jump from East Asia to rural America was effortless. Let me explain. Many of those I served in the mega-city were migrant students and workers from surrounding rural areas. Consequently, I became familiar with rural Asian culture while living in an urban metropolis. Learning to prioritize people over process was what prepared me for pastoring in a rural American setting.

While many works related to rural church ministry often revolve around some type of revitalization or revisioning process, this book draws attention to the significance of community and relationship within a rural ministry often devalued and under-utilized. While the great commission is global in scope, Daman asks an honest question: Why are rural areas being “overlooked and cast aside by the larger church community” and deemed “unworthy of our attention?” (p. 16).

In chapters 1 and 2, Daman observes that rural churches are both forgotten and often misunderstood. He believes that if we fail to understand a culture and its people, “we will eventually devalue and probably ridicule them” (p. 30). Therefore, to begin the process of healing and helping the rural church, there must be “recognition of the gulf existing between rural and urban worldviews” (p. 36). While some rural ministry caricatures are overstated, Daman does well to differentiate between urban and rural ministry methodologies.

Chapters 3–5 briefly explore historical perspectives of American rural life, church, and culture. These chapters are a practitioner’s goldmine for rural ministry. Daman astutely observes why rural ministries often struggle. He states, “Urban principles and practices are often implemented within the rural church context” (p. 37). As a solution for transitioning rural churches, Daman suggests “helping the ‘old-timers’ see that some of their values are cultural rather than biblical, while at the same time helping the ‘newcomers’ learn to respect and value the rich traditions that undergird a rural church and dispel the myths and misconceptions that popular culture has of rural people” (p. 39). Although Daman is right to bridge the gap between traditionalists and those desiring a more authentic practice of ministry, I would contend that helping a traditionalist to value scripture over their sacred traditions is not an easy job. This problem is a leading factor of rural ministry decline.

Chapter 6 synthesizes Daman’s pastoral plea to the broader church community for effective rural ministry. In his observation, the evangelical world has overemphasized urban ministry while the rural landscape had become the new ghetto. In Daman’s assessment, “Evangelicals have viewed rural America through idealist’s eyes as over-churched, over-evangelized, and overly-prosperous” (p. 94). Consequently, conditions in rural America are now facing a crisis, and chapter 7 provides a brief discussion on social injustices and racial tensions plaguing humanity. Daman correctly observes that race is often interwoven into local culture. Therefore, churches must acknowledge that racial tension does exist and must help its community move beyond skin color or ethnic background (p. 120).

Daman next considers the church’s role in the rural community before attempting to develop a theology of rural ministry in Chapter 9. Here is where Daman displays his frustration directly toward Christian leaders who argue that the redemptive plan of God is urban focused (p. 146). Citing multiple New Testament texts, Daman recognizes the vital role of the rural church in sending missionaries and growing pastors for the Great Commission (p. 153). In this chapter, Daman’s strength becomes his weakness as most of his solutions for these challenges are apparently pragmatic.

In the book’s final sections (chs. 10–13), Daman challenges the reader to consider how ministers can create strategic partnerships and view the rural community as an intentional mission field. He asserts, “We struggle to understand rural communities as a mission field because we assume they are already Christian. And we assume they are Christian because of the moral conservativism. As a result, the rural church is viewed as a maintenance church rather than a missional church” (p. 209). Providing a strategy for the future rural ministry, Daman proposes, “Rural churches must maintain a missional priority over simply ‘maintaining’ the ministry” (p. 209). These latter four chapters provide powerful insights and wisdom for the future development of rural ministry. Once again, Daman’s strength is his weakness. Numerous practical solutions are provided for what is often a theological problem in the church that is only solved by God’s Word in the power of the Holy Spirit changing the hearts of men.

Daman has written a well-researched book that covers a broad array of practical issues. This work is exceptional in that it is a first of its kind with its rigorous sociological and historical perspective on the great need for a rural ministry focus. In particular, his clarion call is a challenge for all the evangelical community to hear. Daman provides a distinct contribution to the topic of rural ministry. He provides clarity on the clear distinctions between an urban and rural worldview. Daman’s breadth of knowledge and experience in small church rural ministry is the book’s greatest strength. The book is of great value and would well serve anyone considering rural or urban ministry.

Bobby L. Massey

Bobby L. Massey
First Baptist Church Kershaw
Kershaw, South Carolina, USA

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