Small Town Ministry Books
Instead of having to search the world over for books about small town ministry, we’ve collected some of the best titles here. We even describe them for you!
1. Hoeft, Jeanne, L.Shannon Jung, and Joretta Marshal. Practicing Care in Rural Congregations and Communities. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.
Jeanne Hoeft is associate professor of pastoral care at St. Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, Missouri. L. Shannon Jung is Franklin and Louise Cole Professor of Town and Country Ministries also at St. Paul, and Joretta Marshall is professor of pastoral theology and pastoral care and counseling at Brite Divinity School, Ft. Worth, Texas. The book is broken into two parts, “The Wisdom and Challenges of Rural Care,” and “Healing and Transformative Care in Rural Contexts.” The authors explore lessons that every church can learn from rural congregations, not matter their context, including seeing care shaped by one’s place and context in ministry. This book is one of few works in pastoral theology for rural churches and clergy.
2. Francis, Leslie J., and Mandy Robbins, eds. Rural Life and Rural Church: Theological and Empirical Perspectives. Bristol, CT: Equinox Publishing, 2012.
Leslie Francis is Professor of Religious Education at the University of Warrick in Coventry England, and a past president of the United Kingdom based Rural Theology Association (RTA). Mandy Robbins is Senior Lecturer in Psycology at Glyndŵr University and Honorary Research Fellow at the Religion and Education Research Unit at the University of Warwick. Both are former editors of Rural Theology, the peer reviewed journal published by the RTA. The book is a collection of articles and essays that appeared in Rural Theology between its inception in 2002 and 2011. Rural Life and Rural Church explore nearly every aspect of rural theology based on empirical studies conducted by the book’s contributors. The perspectives and language in the book are clearly British and highly academic, but there is much to glean from this resource in the way of understanding rural culture and norms in other Western societies.
3. Farris, Lawrence W. Dynamics of Small Town Ministry. Herndon, VA: Alban Publishing, 2000.
Farris brings his pastoral experience to this work, having served three pastorates in Michigan and Maryland. He also teaches comparative religion at Glen Oaks Community College in Centreville, Michigan and serves as a church consultant. The book focuses on helping small town ministers discover their ministry context, including the geography, history, culture, and values of a small town. Farris concludes the book by helping ministers and churches consider their respective roles in a small town environment. As the title suggests, anyone interested in the dynamics of small town ministry will find the book helpful and informative.
4. Jung, L. Shannon and Mary A. Agria. Rural Congregational Studies: A Guide For Good Shepherds. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997.
Jung and Agria put together a wonderful introductory resource for congregations and clergy wishing to learn about the unique qualities of rural ministry. At the time the book was written, it was one of the most comprehensive sourcebooks for rural ministry, with Jung and Agria both using their collective experience at the Center For Theology and Land at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. The book focuses on understanding the rural context, attempts to identify what the authors term “rural spirituality,” and suggests possible styles of leadership in rural congregations. This is a wonderful work in practical theology, and even though it is nearly twenty years old, still proves incredibly useful for rural ministry.
5. Gibson, Tim. Church and Countryside: Insights from Rural Theology. London: SCM Press, 2010.
Gibson is a rural pastor in the U.K who is passionate about countryside ministry. He writes a wonderful theology of rural churches, including discussion of rural drama in scripture, the Eucharist as it applies to rural lifestyles, and biblical ideas of justice and community and their potential applications to rural locals. Gibson’s work is truly theological in nature, and is not weighed down by statistics and heavy sociological research, as may occur within other books in the genre. The book is however worthy of being called scholarly from a theological perspective, and will prove helpful to anyone wishing to immerse themselves in theology as it may apply to rural places and communities.
6. O’Dell, Shannon. Transforming Church In Rural America: Breaking All The Rurals. Green Forest, AK: New Leaf Press, 2010.
Pastor O’Dell writes this book to share the wonderful testimony of how his rural Arkansas church went from thirty-one in attendance in attendance in 2003 to over two-thousand at the time of publication. Many assumptions people make concerning rural ministry will be directly challenged by O’Dell’s work. This gives denominations, church planters, congregations, and pastors much to ponder.
7. Ray, David R. The Indespensable Guide for Smaller Churches. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2009.
Ray is a longtime pastor, denominational leader, and church consultant, in the United Church of Christ. He provides an excellent perspective on small church ministry from the viewpoint of progressive Christianity. He offers practical tips on small church finance, communal theology in small churches, small church worship, and a variety of other issues. Readers will find his writing practical end engaging, appreciating Ray’s keen insight and deep experience.
8. Pappas, Anthony G. Entering the World of the Small Church. 2nd ed. Durham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014.
Pappas book divides into three parts. He first examines theory and theology leading to a model for small town ministry. Then he outlines the culture of small town churches, including typical perceptions, motivations, and styles of conflict resolution and shortcomings of what he calls the small-church mentality. Part three discusses leadership in the small church, including providing assessment tools for congregational reflection. Pappas’ book will prove informative and engaging to students of small and rural congregations, as his theory and research are some of the freshest in the field.
9. Daman, Glenn C. Shepherding the Small Church: A Leadership Guide for the Majority of Today’s Churches. 2nd ed.Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2008.
Daman is the director of the Small Church Leadership Network’s Center for Leadership Development, and a DMin graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Sherpherding the Small Church was a 2002 finalist for the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association’s Gold Medallion Book Award. Daman’s book centers on developing rural and small churches in various ways including developing theology of the church, the character of the church, the mission of the church, and the vision of the church. The book is structured in a way that is easy to comprehend, making it ideal for laity and scholars alike. All leaders of small churches will do well to read this book.
10. Myers, Lois E., Rebecca Sharpless, and Clark Baker. Rock beneath the Sand: Country Churches in Texas. Sam Rayburn Series on Rural Life sponsored by Texas A&M University-Commerce. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003.
Myers and Sharpless tell the story of churches still in existence despite the erosion of surrounding farming communities, while Baker contributes to the story telling through beautiful photography. The authors show that race, economics, family, gender, and history all come into play for those who attend the open country churches featured in the book. Lois and Sharpless give ethnographic analysis and commentary based on hundreds of hours of observation and interviews, explaining rural life and religion in Texas. The astute reader will learn about why people stay in rural congregations long after the economies and communities around those churches have collapsed.
13. Moore, Scott W. Rural Revival: Growing Churches in Shrinking Communities. Rogersville,
AL: Eleos Press, 2012.
Rural Revival is a self-published manuscript from a 2003 DMin project report by Moore. In the project, Moore presents numerous case studies of rural Southern Baptist Churches that are experiencing growth. He then identifies common factors attributed to church growth including God’s Presence, Friendliness, Doctrine, Pastor, and Preaching. These factors all played a role, according to respondents, in the vibrancy and revival or their rural congregation. In his discussion of doctrine Moore seems in favor of more fundamentalist approaches to doctrine, as do the respondents. One question for further research might be, is rural church growth only possible with fundamentalist and conservative doctrine, or can moderate and progressive churches see growth also?
14. Ruffcorn, Kevin. Rural Evangelism: Catching the Vision. Minniapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1988.
In Rural Evangelism, Ruffcorn challenges many urban influenced assumptions about evangelism that may leave rural people feeling ill equipped and even feeling guilty over lack of “proper” evangelism. Rural people know each other, and the small community makes it more difficult and intimidating to evangelize in ways that are not relational, although this I would argue that city people feel the same way. By encouraging rural people to capitalize on their strengths and embedded values, Ruffcorn encourages rural congregations to think about evangelism in new and imaginative ways.
15. Lischer, Richard. Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey Through a Country Church. New York: Doubleday Press, 2001.
Open Secrets is a memoir detailing the early ministry of Lischer as a young Lutheran pastor in a digressing rural farming community. Lishcer quickly learns that the townspeople have secrets, and that they need a place to tell them. The pastor, he discovers, may play a therapeutic role in small towns as the village confidant, which surely beats village idiot! Anyone interested in a personal account of rural ministry full of drama and story will find Open Secrets a fulfilling read.
16. Jung, Shannon. Rural Ministry: The Shape of the Renewal to Come. Nashville: Abingdon, 1998.
Through sociological research Jung describes the challenges rural congregations in America face. She calls for rural congregations to reject existing in silos, but instead to partner together in ecumenical ways. Multiple denominational groups are represented in the book, showing that rural decline does not just affect one type of Christian. The issues Jung raises in this book are still timely, and will continue to impact rural people and churches for many years.
17. Willis, Steve. Imagining the Small Church: Celebrating a Simpler Path. Herndon, VA: Alban Publishing, 2012.
Steve Willis tells small town churches and pastor that staying small is acceptable. For growth minded pastors or congregations, this may seem threatening or even anti-gospel, but Willis lays out the argument that bigger churches are not always more desirable. He claims that the biblical values of simplicity, restraint, creation care, community, stewardship, and imagination may lead a church to celebrate the size that they are, not the size the church consultant tells them they should want to become. This read may prove challenging for some, not because it is heady, but because it is piercing to our ideas of success in American Christianity.