Field Research on 20 Grass-roots Churches: a Glimpse of Current Situation of Rural Church Leaders

A big empty church.
A big empty church.
By Tai MiOctober 7th, 2022

During our recent visits to 20 local churches, we were full of feelings. Special concerns go to the heads of rural churches.

First, some church leaders are deeply negative.

Among the 20 churches, two of them are located in the middle of nowhere. They are 15 minutes by car from each other, which impressed me deeply. The number of believers in both churches is less than 100 with 70 or 80 in Church A and 50 or 60 in Church B. Church leaders are sisters in their fifties. However, the two churches are completely different in terms of environmental sanitation, decoration, and management. When we asked if church A had any work done, the person in charge answered that no one was working on its upkeep. She even said airily that if it failed, the church would be closed down!

Church B was not as big as Church A, but it was obviously much neater, and much work was arranged methodically. The special difference is that the state of the two church leaders is completely different. The leader from Church B is pursuing a spiritual life more actively.

Comparatively speaking, the spiritual situation of church leaders is good, and a more positive attitude can drive the church forward with difficulty, but in the long run, this will pose a great challenge to church leaders. Church leaders in rural areas seem to have the ability to move the whole body. If there is no positive church leader in a church with aging believers, the church will only be demoralized.

Second, there are church leaders who do long-distance administration. 

Due to the aging of the church, some young staff can be elected to serve when the church changes. However, with the improvement of the church leaders’ own economic conditions, or the children’s need to study in the city, their families moved to the city, which caused them to have no time to go to church except to go back to their hometown on Sundays. Although they will entrust clients to handle visits and church affairs, the relationship between church leaders and believers will become estranged over time, and church affairs will be untimely. These church leaders themselves will have the idea of not wanting to be leaders as time goes by and the emergence of many family problems and church problems. This matter will become increasingly serious. Some churches suffer from the lack of successors, so they can only coordinate them to keep running between the two places. Usually, these churches can only maintain normal operation, and development is out of the question.

Third, some church leaders refuse to act.

Some churches are in very good numbers, ages, and financial conditions, but there is no development, and the whole church is in low spirits. The main reason is that the church leaders refuse to do anything. They like to be leaders, but they have no thoughts, no sense of crisis, and no idea of development. Even if a few believers in the church encounter problems, have visions to give them opinions and suggestions, or even devote themselves to the pioneering work, they can find many reasons why conditions are not allowed to stop them. They are full of difficulties, but they have never thought of a solution to them.

Fourth, there are church leaders who bring a new look.

I have visited 20 churches, and some of them are eye-catching. One of the church leaders is a theological student in his early thirties, and he became the church leader in the second year after graduation. Up to now, it has been two or three years during which the church has made great progress and changes in software facilities and hardware facilities, and believers’ spirituality and knowledge. The fellow pastors said that this church used to be good, but now it's better than before, and it's quite different.

The person in charge of the church said that when she was carrying out ministries, she also had obstacles, especially in spending money. But they had their own positions, and they would try their best to do ideological work on the right things. If they couldn’t do it well, they would do it bravely. When things are done well and believers see changes, those who opposed them would naturally change their ideas and behaviors. However, there are very few churches that make people shine.

It is an indisputable fact that the number of churches in rural areas is shrinking because rural churches can’t avoid the influence of various social problems such as the aging population, urbanization, economic development, scientific and technological progress, and an increased turnover of people. Perhaps more problems will be exposed in the future. Therefore, it is particularly important for rural churches to have a church leader who understands the truth with firm faith, is progressive in thought, noble in character, and responsible and effective.

(This article is written by a freelance writer. The author is a pastor in Jiangsu.)

- Translated by Charlie Li

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