Bridges of God: The Church and the Rural-Urban Divide

Since the dawn of Christianity, God’s people have been called to be a bridge across the barriers constructed by any given society.

In 1954, Donald McGavran, a third-generation missionary in India who would go on to found Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission, published Bridges of God: A Study in the Strategy of Missions.

In the book, McGavran offered western missionaries a new paradigm for ministry that cut against the dominant mission-station approach that catered to Western individualism by pulling converts out of their relational networks.

McGavran’s proposal emphasized the evangelistic power of interconnectedness. He witnessed entire “people movements” when new converts were encouraged to return to their social networks and families rather than take up residence in a walled-off missionary compound.

In the years since, there have been many justified critiques of the church growth movement that McGavran’s work eventually helped launch, but the principle that God uses relational bridges in the work of his kingdom is something that in retrospect looks so obvious that one wonders how missionary organizations could have ever missed it. Yet they did.

We still do.

Although the correlation between the current state of the church in America and McGavran’s work is hardly one-to-one, the reality today is that we in the church in America still need to be extremely intentional about cultivating relational bridges, especially as our nation approaches what is sure to be another divisive election season.

As a pastor of a small, rural church, I feel this need keenly. If history is any indicator, one of the most polarizing divides heading into the 2020 election cycle may again be the divide between those—Christian and non-Christian alike—who live in the nation’s rural regions and those who live in more urban areas. …

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