Institutional leaders identify a shift in population from
rural to urban settings as the cause of rural church decline. Current reality,
however, is that fewer and fewer rural areas in downstate Illinois are far from
a city or an interstate highway that connects them to what people desire.
Princeton, a rural town of eight thousand located 115 miles from the Chicago
loop is “close enough to the vital metro region to have become a hot relocation
spot for telecommuters and early retirees.”
Rural population will fluctuate, but rural areas are not empty; it is
unnecessary to leave rural areas to go where the people are. There are few
small towns in central Illinois that do not have a few blocks of new house
construction. J. Russell Hale’s 1980 research results “suggest that, contrary
to public opinion, the unchurched phenomenon in the United States may be
primarily rural rather than urban.”
A more accurate diagnosis of the problem is that rural institutional churches
are often unable and unwilling to assimilate strangers who are new to rural
communities. The same type of churches in more urban areas are equally
ineffective when surrounded by a hundred thousand people of the same culture.
 The quote is a selection from David O. Kueker’s Fuller Seminary Doctor of Ministry project submitted in September, 2007, entitled Diagnosis, Dialogue, and Decision: A Threefold Process of Revitalization For the Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
It is shared here in recognition of its 12th Anniversary along with comments to update and provide perspective on the material. The original project was a Training Manual/Study Guide of three Seminars supported by three chapters of research and an Introduction. The material is available for download at www.disciplewalk.com/Resources.html. In 2009 it was provided for purchase as a softcover book entitled Designing Discipleship Systems: Christian Disciple Making For Any Size Church, Any Theology through CreateSpace.com.
   
All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please review the page How and Why We Use Quotes.
Nowlan, Who We Are by the Numbers.
J. Russell Hale, The Unchurched: Who They Are And Why They Stay Away (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980), 173.
Cf. Joseph Calvin Evers, The History of the Southern Illinois Conference The Methodist Church (Nashville: The Parthenon Press, 1964), 218. Many smaller communities are perceived as highly churched. Research by Pastor Jack Montgomery in Jacksonville, Illinois, showed that on average only 27% of a population of twenty-two thousand attended church on a Sunday in October, 1999. This meant that a small county seat town with more than fifty churches had over sixteen thousand residents who did not attend worship on a weekly basis. Research by Stanley Presser and Linda Stinson indicate that the figure nationally is 26%; see Reggie McNeal, The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 3.