Small and Rural Churches

The vast majority of United Methodist churches (roughly 70%) are small membership churches with fewer than 200 members. Most can be and are vital places of ministry that matter. The size of the membership will determine how the church goes about its mission and ministry, not whether it will or not. Small but vital churches embody Christ’s activity in the world; focusing on what God would have you do – being faithful and focused on the mission.

Writer and editor, Brandon O’Brien in “Five Strategic Advantages of Small Churches,” notes five strengths that smaller churches can use with great effectiveness*:

  1. Authenticity: “First, be yourself…Second, make sure your behavior lines us with your stated convictions.”
  2. Lean and Focused: Instead of running many generic programs, the small church should zero in on one or two programs that focus on the unique needs of the local context.
  3. People-powered: If a small church limits the number of programs it runs, then the bulk of the church’s ministry has to come from its members. Empowering and releasing members to minister in the community requires that you know your congregants well enough to know what they are passionate about and already involved in.
  4. Intergenerational Relationships: Students who seek a church home after high school are those who have had meaningful relationships with other adults in the church besides their parents or have been given opportunities to serve younger children in the church, and so are more likely to view the church as important to their lives.
  5. Ministry on the Margins: The largest churches attract a fairly will-defined demographic. The average age of a mega-church attendee is forty. Nearly a third of them are single and, on the whole, more educated and wealthier that the average members of smaller churches. But smaller, nimbler churches can reach the people who fall outside this demographic.

(*Adapted from in the “Small Membership Church Guidelines 2017-2020” produced by Discipleship Ministries)

Resources for Small and Rural Churches


United Methodist Rural Advocates 
The United Methodist Rural Advocates is a United Methodist lay and clergy association that deals directly with issues that relate to small membership churches, rural communities, and local pastors. UMRA is a tax-exempt organization. Following the 2012 General Conference, we changed our name from UMRF, United Methodist Rural Fellowship, to UMRA or United Methodist Rural Advocates. Visit their website at

Rural Faith Development 
Founded in 2007, Rural Faith Development Community Development Corporation (RFD CDC) serves as a catalyst for well-being by providing leadership in innovation and entrepreneurial approaches. As an affiliate ministry of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, RFD CDC gives special focus to rural, small, and/or impoverished communities. Visit their website at

Books for Rural Ministry

The following books may be ordered through a number of online booksellers, including Upper RoomCokesbury and Amazon.

  • "Choosing the Faithful Path," by Nancy B. Rankin & Beth M. Crissman
  • "The $5 Youth Ministry: Low-Cost Ideas for Effective Ministry," by Todd Outcalt
  • "99 Thoughts for Smaller Church Youth Workers: Doing More with Less," by Stephanie Caro
  • "Discovering Hope: Building Vitality in Rural Congregations," by David Poling-Goldenne and L. Shannon Jung
  • "Effective Small Churches in the 21st Century," by Carl Dudley
  • "Energizing Children’s Ministry in the Smaller Church," by Rick Chromey
  • "The Healthy Small Church: Diagnosis and Treatment for the Big Issues," by Dennis Bickers
  • "Practicing Care in Rural Congregations and Communities," by Jeanne Hoeft, L. Shannon Jung and Joretta Marshall
  • "Preaching in the Small Membership Church" by Lewis Parks ISBN 978-0-687-64584-8
  • "Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches: Secrets for Cultivating a Dynamic Youth Ministry," Chromey, Rick and Stephanie Caro. This is really an upgrade of Rick’s book from 1990 called, "Youth Ministry in Small Churches: Creative How-tos, plus 28 involving activities"
  • "Turnaround and Beyond: A Hopeful Future for the Small Membership Church," Ron Crandall. This is the sequel to the 1995 book, "Turnaround Strategies for the Small Church."
Books for Small Membership Churches
  • Abingdon did a series of books for Ministry in the Small Membership Church in the mid-2000’s:
  • "Evangelism in the Small Membership Church," by Royal Speidel, 2007  
  • "Christian Ed in the Small Membership Church," by Karen B. Tye, 2008
  • "Pastoral Care in the Small Membership Church," by James L. Killen, 2005
  • "Administration in the Small Membership Church," by John H. Tyson, 2007
  • "Spiritual Leadership in the Small Membership Church," by David Canada, 2005
  • "Preaching in the Small Membership Church," by Lewis Parks, 2009
  • "The Gifts of the Small Church," by Jason Byassee, 2010
  • "Worshipping in the Small Membership Church," by Robin Knowles Wallace, 2008
Articles from the Lewis Center for Church Leadership