February 27, 2014

How well do you know your mission field? Should mission strategies differ in rural and urban settings? As I considered these questions I realized that much about mission service and outreach is the same regardless of your setting; it’s always important to focus on building strong, long-term relationships as you serve; always important to respond with relief, recovery, and development in mind; etc. However, there are a few differences to consider when reaching out in service in urban or rural settings.

In rural communities you are more likely to have a personal connection with someone linked to needs in your community. The school superintendent may attend your church, you may get coffee in the same place as the police chief, and, in my rural hometown, the local judge works out at the same gym as my husband. It is more likely that you will be able to ask these community leaders questions regarding needs face to face. In urban areas with larger populations it is less likely to be personally acquainted with these community leaders, and harder to meet with them in person.

Similarly, in rural settings it tends to feel like “everybody knows everybody”. It is possible that you know (or know of) most people in town. You grew up together, went to school together, work together, and generally have more of a close-knit sense of community. Urban populations, however, are growing as it becomes increasingly popular to live in cities. Urban areas have larger, younger, and significantly more diverse populations. As a result urban congregations must be that much more intentional about being diversely and culturally knowledgeable and sensitive in their local response to needs.

In urban communities it is more likely that the infrastructure for response is already in place. In St. Louis you can assist with alleviating poverty by supporting the work of Kingdom House, Send Me St. Louis, and a variety of other organizations. Kenneth Pruitt of Kingdom House shares that “Once you get a taste for service and justice work [in an urban setting] it’s about determining where you fit into the work already being done.”

Conversely, rural churches may need to build response from the ground up. For example, Sturgeon UMC and the local ministerial alliance noticed an increase in families utilizing the local food pantry, and wondered about the household needs of these families. Pastor Mike Will said “We wanted people to have a place to get other items they might need”. They soon realized that a place to organize this response was unavailable, so they renovated a section of their church to open a thrift store. This store offers clothing, furniture, and other household items at no cost to families in Sturgeon and surrounding communities.

These are just a few examples of the differences in serving rural or urban settings. Feel free to share some differences you are aware of with me at phelps@umocm.com. And remember that God is at work everywhere! God is calling all of us to serve...we just have to answer that call.