For readers and followers of this blog, for this series only if you wish to reblog An Inconvenient God in individual chapters or in its entirety, I am okay with this. I had foreseen this as being a book, but when I reached the end, I had said all there was for me to say and it is clearly not enough for a book.
At different points in each chapter I ask questions. I do not ask them in search of answers for myself because I already know where I stand. I ask them as catalyst for the reader to consider.
Chapter Seven – The Urbanization of Society
There was a time that churches in cities and in rural areas both thrived. They were a meeting place where communities of people came to worship God and afterwards commune together and catch up with friends and family they saw but once or twice a week. They had a sense of belonging and were tight knit families of people who may only be related through Jesus. I remember attending a Friends Church in New Sharon, Iowa with my aunt, uncle and cousins when I was young. In the Sunday school class there could not have been more than 6 or 7 of us kids. A small church filled to the brim of joyful people. The church services were led by a pastor who spoke with such charisma that you could swear that it was just him and you having a one on one conversation. This small rural church was a place of fellowship. But over time, the rural churches have one by one fallen by the wayside.
- What is the cause of the demise of rural churches?
- Who does the rural church serve?
- Who are the people of the area?
Over the past century, the average size of a farm has gone from 147 acres to 441 (www.agday.org). This means there are only 1/3 of the farmers needed to do the job. Where farmers used to raise their own farmhands to help operate the farm, technology has taken over and what used to take six or seven people can now be done by one or two. What happened to the other four or five people? More than likely, they migrated to town to find employment there. Further evidence of this is shown by the age of the average American farmer is 57 (www.agday.org). Without the need to raise your own farmhands, families are having fewer children and therefore there are smaller households. Two church pews were emptied out.
Of the children born to farmers, after living a childhood of working on the farm, many days from before sunrise to after sunset, encouraged to seek a chance for an easier life brought on by PIP and ADS, they take it. They leave the farm for opportunities in the city. This leads to the decentralization of the family unit and leads to eroding the strength of that unit away. Another pew goes empty. This is an indicator of another contributing factor to the fall of the rural church.
Where people once took pride in working hard to provide for their family, (doing an honest day’s work), now it is all about doing less and receiving more. The person who goes out and works hard every day is pitied by some, “Look at how hard that guy has to work to make a living”; or looked down on by others “Look at that idiot breaking his back to earn a living.” To me, this says we are sliding from the mindset that it is good to toil hard and reap the reward to one of entitlement. This mindset leads people to leave jobs that require hard work to look for high paying employment with little exertion. These types of jobs are not in the rural areas. Dust collects on yet another pew.
Now, look at the communities that once held part of the congregation of the rural church. There was a time that each of these towns was self-supporting. There would be a general store, a hardware store, a post office, the Ben Franklin Five and Dime, a service station or two, and maybe a diner or a drugstore. The people who owned the businesses in the community, lived and worshipped in that community. With the introduction of large chain stores such as Wal-Mart, convenience stores, and Walgreens, people started going to them for one stop shopping instead of supporting the local merchants. The local merchants could not financially compete with the big corporations that bought in large quantities at discounted prices and slowly died out. What was once money reintroduced into the community through stores locally owned and operated, had now become money that was shipped off to stockholders of a large corporation in some large city somewhere. The local businesses were boarded up one or two at a time and were soon forgotten. The local people who worked at these local businesses now had to find employment elsewhere. To do so, they left the rural community and headed to the urban areas. Three more pews were vacated.
I remember a time when Searsboro, Iowa which I am pretty sure never had more than 300 people in it had a public school, a general store, a gas station, a diner, a post office, a farmer’s cooperative, and a tavern. Monday through Saturday, the business area of Searsboro had a constant flow of people frequenting the businesses. On Sunday, those same people filled the Friends Church to capacity. Today, the only things that remain are the cooperative and the tavern, and the church is no longer prime real estate on Sunday.
What many states had protected before was given up to the money changers. There was a time up to the 1970’s that Sunday was a day of worship and family, not a day for business. Businesses were closed on Sundays and people spent the day in church and with family. Then, much due to the chain stores that wanted to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to maximize their profit potential, this too was lost. With bad economic times, people took whatever job they could get. If that included having to work on Sunday, they did it to put food on the table. Another three pews are orphaned.
Finally, not long after the Sabbath was lost, God was forced out of the school system. For a while God was removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, the Christmas Pageant was removed from the school and replaced with a “holiday pageant” where the mention of God or Jesus was forbidden, and creationism was not allowed to be spoken in the school but the children were taught evolution, not as a theory, but as a scientific fact. I was raised to believe that teachers filled you will knowledge and facts to help you live your life. So, if the teacher says it is so, it must be so. Another two pews become lonely.
Now, all you have left in the remaining pews of the rural church are the congregation that didn’t leave but continues to age. What was once a place of two or three generations of a family is now just the elders. As time goes on, one by one the elders go home to God and what is left grows smaller and smaller, until all the pews are empty. What was once a church full with people filled with the spirit is now an empty shell with nothing more than the spirit of the people that at one time was.
Now consider this, of the people who migrated from the rural areas to the urban areas, originally most were drawn to churches in the urban areas that resembled the church they left in size and spirit. Today, many of those small urban churches have been swallowed up by large churches with congregations of several hundred to several thousand members. These larger churches are in many ways like the large chain stores that helped destroy the rural churches. These large impersonal congregations don’t have a sense of community and they process membership like the chain stores looking to maximize their profit potential. They advertise on TV as the place to be and the place to offer your children the most camaraderie. People will look for a school with a small student to teacher ratio to give their child the best education potential. Yet, when it comes to educating them about God, they take them to a large church where the Sunday school class can have up to 50 or 60 children in it. Does this mindset not show that the parents are valuing their child’s material well-being more than their spiritual well-being?
To summarize, the rural churches for the most part have become nothing more than a memory for the aging. This has been brought on by changes in mindsets, the greed of corporations, and the loss of God through government policies. Will there ever be a resurgence of rural churches? Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.
- Is technology a contributing factor to making humans physically and spiritually lazy?
- Is modernization and the flight from rural to urban life beneficial or detrimental to spirituality?
- Can man benefit spiritually from a large congregational church more than he can from a small congregational church?