Small Country Church – Big Community Impact

 

During the 1800s, the majority of Americans still lived in rural, agriculturally-centered communities. Towns were small. Farms and ranches spread over hundreds of acres which oftentimes separated neighbors by miles. Isolation was a way of life for many families. Yet humans long for connection, for belonging. And the harsh circumstances of pioneer life often necessitate a dependence on others. Neighbor wives were often called upon to deliver babies or provide food when a woman became ill. Men relied on their nearest neighbors to help bring in crops or butcher hogs. All of this required community. And how was community built and nurtured? Through the small country churches.

They might seem like they were built out in the middle of nowhere, but these country churches were strategically located to enable the most families to be able to attend. Some families lived a day or more away from the nearest town, so giving up two days a week, one being a workday, to travel to church wasn”t feasible. Therefore, churches were planted in locations where rural families would only have to travel a couple hours at most each way.

People gathered at these churches not only to worship, but for community meetings and events, for burials, and for weddings. They fostered friendships and commitment to the local community.

In today”s society, the country church is losing its significance. Fewer communities are rural-based these days with most populations having moved into towns and cities. Ease of transportation has also impacted the survival of these landmarks. Yet some country churches are still hanging on.

My husband and I attend a small country church on the outskirts of Abilene, TX in the farming community of Hamby. A few years back we celebrated the congregation”s 100th year with a grand celebration. We continue to have potlucks or “dinner on the ground” every couple months, everyone knows everyone else, and everyone chips in whenever there is a need among the members. It”s like a little piece of history that I am happy to keep alive.

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My latest book, Stealing the Preacher, centers around just such a country church. Joanna Robbin”s beloved church building has stood empty for two years without a minister, and she longs to bring it back to life. The community needs it. She needs it. But most of all, her unbelieving father needs it. Little does she know that, thanks to an offhand comment she made, her ex-outlaw daddy has decided to break out the old face-hiding bandannas and kidnap her a parson from the local rail line. Crockett Archer might have been stolen, but Joanna can”t shake the feeling that God intended him for her church. Can she convince Crockett that he ended up right where he belongs?

Questions for you:

* Have you ever attended a small country church?

* Do you have a country church in your community? Is it abandoned or still going strong?

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

19 thoughts on “Small Country Church – Big Community Impact”

  1. There were several small country churches in the area I grew up. Don’t know that any here are still going but have many memories of them. I think my favorite though was one I attended for a funeral in the Missouri Ozarks. I was there as the traveling companion of the daughter in law of the deceased so I was able to just enjoy the beauty of the service and the joy in the celebration.

    I am looking forward to reading Stealing the Preacher!

  2. I from a small town in Alabama and yes we had a small town church! I loved to attend,Where everyone new each other. Churches now days are so full and people come from everywhere and most don’t take time to know each other . I have since moved to a bigger city, but I miss my small country church!

  3. Your family is blessed to have such a lovely church in your community!

    There’s an absolutely lovely community church in northern Nebraska that the town has restored. The set up is ingenious. The building can serve as a school, church, assembly hall, theater…depending on which panels are opened and which way the chairs are facing. It’s an amazing building and the restoration really buoyed the town spirit.

  4. I live in the country and there is a beautiful Lutheran country church about 2 miles away. It’s going strong. My 89 year old neighbor belongs to that church. He says that everyone helps out with the repairs and there is also a huge rummage/bake sale which helps to support the upkeep. I’ve never been inside of it. But the stained glass windows are gorgeous!

  5. Lovely pictures, information and post, Karen! My college roommate lived in a small Nebraska town and got married in a sweet country church you could see from the back porch of her parents’ farm house. Loved it, and loved the excerpt, too. xo

  6. Hi, Connie. There is just something about the homey feel of a country church that just doesn’t exist in larger congregations. I’m glad you got to experience that in the Ozarks. Too bad it was for a funeral, but I bet you could still feel the sense of community there. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hi, Kim. I grew up in a smaller church and just don’t feel comfortable in large churches. My husband was exactly the opposite. He grew up in a congregation of over 1000 members. Yet we both feel right at home at our small country church. It’s a place where we can get involved and truly feel a part of something. I wouldn’t trade it.

  8. Sherri – What an ingenious building! I would love to see that someday. My imagination is already spinning about the creative architect that designed such a structure. Talk about your multipurpose room!

  9. Laurie – That church sounds absolutely lovely. How wonderful that you talk to your neighbor about it. He describes the sense of community exactly how I experience. Neighbor helping neighbor and all chipping in to help the church. Thanks so much for sharing!

  10. I actually still attend a small country church. Even when I moved to the big city, I found a church in one of the suburbs to attend. I prefer smaller churches verses attending some of the megachurches.

  11. Tanya – What a glorious wedding. I can just picture a young girl looking out her bedroom window with dreamy eyes, imagining herself someday getting married in the sweet little church she can see from her window. Then she finds the man of her heart and that dream comes true. How utterly romantic!

  12. I live in a small city, but it on it’s borders are many rural farm communities. Who’s social centre I am most sure the Churches they attend,also I live in the Mennonite county. So I know that their church is very important to them both religiously and socially.

    I grew up going to church, but do not need it every Sunday, just when the spirit moves me. I am great believer in that God lives all around us, just not in a house on what ever day you choose to worship him.

  13. Hi, Sheila – I’m a small church gal, too. I’m glad you found one to plug into.

    Kathleen – The Mennonites are a great example of the spirit of community these churches can foster. The Amish, too. Great thought!

  14. I got married in a small country church. The church is still there but not in use at this time. The preacher that built it and married us passed away!

  15. The church I grew up in is still going strong, at least for a few more years. Most of the active members who still put on the BBQ Chicken dinners and bake apple pies to raise funds are the same people who ran these events when I was in high school with a few new helpers. If there are 100 people in the sanctuary it is very crowded. The building was originally built in 1850 and has been remodeled several times but is still the little white church in the country and similar to many you see in photographs of Vermont and Northeastern N.Y.
    Here in central Washington there are several country churches. There is a General Conference Mennonite Church (definitely NOT old order) 10 miles from our home where many of our neighbors are members. It is still very much a fellowship of neighbors even though many people drive 20 miles to attend services. Like so many other rural congregations they are struggling as fewer young people return to the area due to lack of jobs.

    Here in our neighborhood we still have one count

  16. Those small rural churches have always been my favorites. The parish where I grew up had the big church in town and an old missionary church on the mountains. They held a service there every Sunday morning. We attended the smaller church whenever we could. In Northern VA, just outside DC, the parish had a new large church and the original, smaller church. We attended the smaller one the most. It was built before the Civil War and was used by Clara Barton as a hospital during the Civil War. Even thought the parishioners are the same, it is just somehow a closer knit feeling to attend the smaller church.

    Currently we attend a large church with a large congregation. Nice people, but it just isn’t the same.

    My daughter has been attending a small country church. The congregation has been shrinking and it was closed just last month. There are other churches close by of the same denomination, but the one closest to them is just a bit too big for their liking. They will drive a couple of miles further and attend the smaller one. They and we live in NE TN and there are many, many small rural churches.

  17. Yes, I grew up in country churches and loved it. Having the preacher for dinner with Fried Chicken was a treat. And, I loved the dinners on the grounds on certain Sundays. Such fun to run and play with all of the kids while the grown-ups visited. Ane when we had revivals in summer they were usually outdoors. The benches were taken outside, and lanterns were hung around. Too hot inside. I miss the revivals that all churches used to have. In those days, tho people were busy, people would go to 2 week revivals. Now you are lucky if they will come 3 nights. I would love to have this book. Thanks for a chance to win it.
    MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

  18. Thanks for your support of country churches! You’d be surprised at the big difference God can make in a small place. I’m director of an organization called Village Missions dedicated to keeping country churches alive since 1948. We send a dedicated pastor and family to a struggling country church and provide salary so that the pastor can live in the community and minister full time. So, you don’t have to kidnap a pastor–we’ll send one.

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