This page contains some of our favorite resources for ministry in small places (with some brief comments on each one). One of the best things about the recent resurgence of interest in small place ministry is the increasing availability of articles, books, websites, and videos intended to equip and encourage those in small towns and rural areas. Below, you’ll see some of the resources we think are particularly insightful and important. These have helped us the most.
‘I Overlooked the Rural Poor – Then Trump Came Along,’ Tish Harrison Warren,(Christianity Today, August 2016)
A helpful, honest, and important article that started many people thinking about the vast heartland of America and the need for ministry in the small places.
‘The Smug Style in American Liberalism,’ by Emmett Rensin (Vox, April 21, 2016.)
An important article for helping to recognize the common disdain of the broader culture for the small places.
‘The Centrality of the Gospel,’ by Timothy Keller, available at gospelinlife.com
Keller shows that the gospel isn’t meant to be merely the content of our speech, but also the contour of our lives. The emphasis on gospel-shaped living and thinking is very helpful in beginning to develop a ‘theological vision’ for ministry in small places.
‘No Little People, No Little Places,’ by Francis Schaeffer
An important chapter in Schaeffer’s book No Little People that reminds us that ‘in God’s sight there are no little people and no little places.’
'Ghost Towns and Small Towns: Church Planting in a Boom and Bust World' by Charlie Cotherman
Cotherman calls church planters in small places to prioritize ‘relationships over hype, marketing, and quick fixes’ and promote ‘a hope founded on the long-term faithfulness of God.’
An insightful interview with writer and Acts 29 rural church planter John Hindley. Hindley planted a church in Manchester, England and then moved to rural Norfolk to plant another. In this interview, he explains why, and what he’s learned.
Renewed Interest: A Fresh Look at the Rural Church by Rob Foster
Drawing on original research (including personal interviews) and some of the current literature, Rob Foster helpfully examines the recent resurgence of interest in small-town and rural ministry.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
This book became a run-away New York Times bestseller, and with good reason. J.D. Vance explores the crisis of poor, white America by telling his own story of growing up in the Rust Belt of Ohio and an Appalachian town in Kentucky.
Jayber Crow By Wendell Berry
We’ve got to include at least one Wendell Berry book here! Berry’s many works of fiction and non-fiction explore themes of community, identity, memory, and the land. Berry cherishes an affection for small places that resists sentimentalism and recognizes the ever-present challenges.
Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America by Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas
Two sociologists who moved to Iowa in order to understand the brain drain of young people away from rural areas offer an illuminating account of a major problem for rural America.
Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by Don Carson
A moving account of the life of Tom Carson, a little-known Canadian pastor who labored for years in the Eastern Township region of Quebec. Written by Tom’s well-known son, Don Carson, this is the account of an ordinary pastor greatly used by God.
Small-Town America by Robert Wuthnow
An extremely helpful and clearly written study of small-town America, based on interviews and analysis by a leading Princeton sociologist.
Small Town Jesus by Donnie Griggs
An empassioned plea not to forget the small places. Written by a highly successful small-town church planter.
Small Town Mission BY Aaron Morrow
A short, helpful call to live all of life on mission, including life in small towns.
Who Were the First Christians? Dismantling the Urban Thesis by Thomas A. Robinson
A major work of historical and biblical scholarship that makes for challenging and riveting reading. Robinson tackles (and effectively critiques) the prevailing scholarly consensus that early Christianity was an almost exclusively urban religion for the first three hundred years. This monograph is demanding, but very important.
A beautifully-written, sharply-observed, nuanced, and theologically informed book on rural/small-town ministry. Roth focuses on the various disciplines required for effective rural ministry and makes the case that the Church needs the rural church in order to truly be the Church.
Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church by Winn Collier
This work of fiction consists of letters from a pastor to his small-town Virginia congregation. Together, the letters provide a thought-provoking reflection on the nature of love, community, friendship, and small-town pastoral ministry. Read Stephen Witmer’s TGC review of this book: ‘A Fictional Pastor Teaches Us to Love Big in Small Places.’
The Country Parson, His Character, And Rule of Holy Life by George Herbert
The famous poet left behind prestigious careers at Cambridge University and in Parliament to become a country pastor. In this 17th-century work, he encouraged and exhorted other rural pastors. What comes through most clearly is Herbert’s conviction of the importance and value of this work, and his love for country people.
Church and Countryside: Insights from Rural Theology by Tim Gibson
Perhaps the most relentlessly theological book on rural ministry we’ve read (that’s a compliment!). It’s written by an Englishman, and therefore focuses mainly on the English countryside. Gibson discusses the centrality of community in a rural context and focuses on the ways in which Christians can live from their shared experience of the Eucharist in order to deepen and bless their communities. There’s lots to learn here, even though we don’t agree with everything.
The Forgotten Church by Glenn Daman
Reflecting careful research and a life-time of commitment to rural ministry, and written with clarity and passion, Glenn Daman’s The Forgotten Church occupies an important place in the recent literature on small-town and rural ministry. It provides an informative and inspiring call to remember what has been largely forgotten.
The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Rural America by Robert Wuthnow
Wuthnow details many contemporary threats to rural communities today including the sense that the small-town way of life is being threatened. Read Stephen Witmer’s TGC review of this book: Two (Book) Attempts to Understand Rural America
Rural Matters Institute, at The Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, Wheaton College
There are some helpful resources on this page. The RMI also sponsors an annual Rural Matters conference (the first was held in 2017).
Be encouraged through stories of God’s work in rural areas. For more on the ministry of Village Missions, check out this TGC article.
This site contains some good resources, including video from past conferences on small-town ministry.
Small-Town Jesus. Information on upcoming STJ events and other small-town ministry resources.
Our own David Pickney is the co-director of this new initiative that focuses on planting churches in small places around the world.
The Left Behind of Rural America with the Gospel Coalition
An interview with Collin Hansen and Stephen Witmer where they discuss Robert Wuthnow's book and ministry in rural America.
Gospel Ministry in Small Towns with Jared Wilson
This is a great word from Jared Wilson about the crucial need for small place ministry.
Don't Hate on Rural Ministry with Collin Hansen, Stephen Um and Jared Wilson
Here’s a really helpful Gospel Coalition conversation with Collin Hansen, Stephen Um, and Jared Wilson about urban and rural ministry. This is an excellent example of how those called to urban ministry and those called to rural ministry can support one another in gospel work.