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Saving Small Churches


As city suburbs continue to grow, rural churches lose members and money.  Finding ways to preserve these unique congregations has become a challenge.  This week, members of the United Methodist Church voted to approve almost a half million dollars in funding for ministries in rural cultures.  Kim Riemland reports.


Nat Sound: “Little country churches are just wonderful.”

As they have for nearly 100 years, church bells in Fenelton, Pennsylvania call the community to worship.

United Methodist Pastor Sherry Cook begins the third of three sermons in three churches – dividing her duties among small, country congregations that can’t afford a full-time pastor.

It is a place where everybody knows not just your name, but even your birthday …

Nat Sound: “Happy birthday!”

This is family.

Alice Morrow / Member, Fenelton United Methodist Church: “We’re not a number. Sometimes when you go to bigger churches, you are.  Out here, everybody takes everybody’s feelings very personal.”

But membership in rural churches is declining. As small towns get smaller, churches like this lose people and resources. It becomes harder to reach out in ministry and mission.

The Rev. Sharon Schwab: “Do we just let this die, in favor of the suburbs which are growing and are over 50 percent of our membership, or do we remember that in every community we need the presence of the church?”

Pastor Sharon Schwab is a delegate to the United Methodist’s top legislative body that just approved nearly a half million dollars to strengthen rural churches.

The Rev. Sharon Schwab: “Small membership churches do very vital ministry. It’s not on a grand a scale as large churches do, yet we are out there serving and doing in the name of Jesus Christ, which we’ve been called to do.”

Members hope this church will remain for another century, proving strength is not in numbers, but in family and in faith.

Alice Morrow: “We’re very proud of our church.  You just thank God every day it is here that you can come and worship.”


Rural United Methodist churches account for more than one third of the denomination’s membership.

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