I recently attended a workshop where the Director of Faith Community Formation for the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church shared a surprising statement. He said that in the United States, rural areas are the least evangelized areas. That stuck out to me as a surprising statement, because my initial assumption is that rural areas tend to be more religious than urban areas. Because I can rarely leave well enough alone, I looked into his statement and found he may be right. There is statistical data that backs up his claim.
Recently were the results for the decadal U.S. Religious Census. This comprehensive demographic study provides a snapshot of the religious makeup of the United States every ten years. One of the data points that can be found is the percent of the population that is adherent to any religious group. This data was compiled and displayed on a county level map. Sure enough, some of the places with the lowest levels were rural areas. This color-coded map is divided into five categories, and Starke County was in the lowest. Less than 35% of the population of this county have involvement with a faith community. This is much lower than more urban areas like Lake County, St. Joseph County, or Marian county which all had a much higher percentage of the population that were adherents of a faith community. It is true that urban areas have a higher number of people who do not yet know Jesus, but the data shows that rural areas like ours have a higher percentage of the population who are not part of a faith community.
I realize that being part of a faith community is not a requirement for being a Christian, but from a data standpoint it is a good indicator. The reality is that in our county, at best, 2/3rds of the population are not actively engaged in faith. We really do live in one of the least evangelized areas of our state. That is a sobering statistic, but it can also be an opportunity. Jesus commissioned all of his followers in Matthew 28 to make disciples and share the good news. We do not need to go to the ends of the earth to do this, odds are we just need to go to the end of our drive way. Every Sunday after we gather for worship, we leave the comfort of the sanctuary to enter into our mission field, which is right outside our doors.
We live in one of the least evangelized areas of our state, so our purpose should be clear, and our mission should be focused. If the majority of the people in this county do not know Jesus, then may we do all that we can to change that. May our actions reflect the love of God, may we be quick to invite, and may people find an accepting place in this church. May we be the evangelists that Starke County needs.