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After years of focus on the large church, there is now renewed interest in the rural church-congregations whose attendance would not make a decent Sunday school class in a megachurch.

As the pastor of four small, rural churches, I welcome this interest. But I have noticed a troubling trend: discussions of the rural church have the air of a family of a terminally ill patient. Unless drastic and dramatic measures are taken, so the thinking seems, the rural church will be lost.

Nonsense. Although the rural church needs help, it is not in danger of extinction. In fact, the rural church holds many inherent strengths.

The strengths usually cited are "soft" features: rural congregations function as a small group; relationships are close; concern is felt and expressed among the members. These features are seen as a consolation for the lack of "hard," numerical strengths.

Actually, rural churches can boast of some impressive numerical facts.

Percentage of community penetration

The five communities I ...

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