Small rural churches offer sense of closeness

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2002

It’s a small and cozy atmosphere. It’s friendly and inviting, probably somewhere where you are bound to run into your next door neighbor. The minister stands directly in front of you, and addresses you not merely as another congregation member but as an old and familiar friend.

It’s the way many people remember church in the &uot;good old days,&uot; especially those who live in the rural areas.

Pastor Ed Byrom is the pastor of the Marion Junction Baptist Church, located on County Road 29. The church is small, and located in rural Marion Junction. Attendance averages at most from 30 to 50 members.

Email newsletter signup

“Most of our congregation are elderly,” Byrom said. “But we do have one or two teen-agers that normally attend. But really, we seem to have the same people come on a regular basis.”

Byrom said the church also accepts other denomination members, such as Methodists and Presbyterians. “Basically, all of our churches in the area are fairly close together, and we all preach on different Sundays,” he said. “So we normally have members from other congregations attend our services regularly.”

In a world in which many churches boast hundreds and even thousands of members, Byrom says his church still has one major attraction which bigger churches don’t have &045;&045; and that is a sense of closeness.

“People just really feel a sense of being closer to one another in a small church,” Byrom said. “People all know each other here and are friendly with each other. I think this is one of the major reasons why people keep coming to this church.”

Byrom still believes in a simple old philosophy to keeping members.

“I have always believed it is not what the church can do you for you, rather it is what you can do for the church,” he says. “The thing about the members we have is that they are committed, and that is the reason why our members continue to stay here.”

Sandy Simmons, who formerly pastored three rural churches in Dallas County at the same time, said closeness among members is something, which he noticed everywhere he went.

“I think it’s that sense of smallness, almost a sense of closeness, that keeps members coming back to these churches,” said Simmons. Simmons, who is now pastor of Memorial United Methodist Church in Selma, was formerly the pastor at Marion Junction United Methodist, Orville United Methodist and the Center Chapel in Safford.

Despite the coziness and the sense of closeness of the small town rural church atmosphere, larger churches do offer certain advantages, argue some.

Gary Lamar Crum Sr., who was formerly the pastor of a rural church in Tyler, saw his church expand.

The church, known as Ellwood Community Church, now located on Selma Avenue in Selma, now has over 1,500 members, one of the largest congregations in Selma, and something which Crum says he is more than happy with.

“I know what it’s like to go from a rural church to a bigger church,” Crum said. “I’ve been through it. The advantages of a bigger church are that we can offer more programs and various other types of services that we couldn’t offer before.”

Crum added that despite the size of the church increasing, the sense of closeness still has not disappeared.

“There are more people, but now we basically have a lot of small groups, where people really know each other well,” he said. “I really can say we still do have a sense of closeness.”