In all the recent talk of the city as the main focus of church planting and theological thought (at least in many quarters) it seems that rural ministry is a bit like the ugly girl at a wedding. Everybody knows she’s there but nobody wants to dance with her. It’s not my intent to talk about rural ministry in-depth in this article, but I am determined to highlight the plight of what we at 20schemes are terming rural housing schemes scattered throughout Scotland in what are often – incorrectly – thought of as less deprived areas than their urban counterparts.

Doubtless, our Western world is urbanising, and has been since the industrial revolution. The poor and needy on the fringes need Christ and they need gospel centred churches in which to grow and mature. But the massive gospel deficiency in rural areas in the UK is just as pressing and as needful of deep thought, concern, discussion, theologising and church planting action. Of course, this site is a forum for inner city housing schemes but I have been struck recently by the plight of rural areas as we at 20Schemes have gone about researching the need for health churches across Scotland.

During the research we have carried out in the last couple of years, we have discovered the existence of a great many invisible housing schemes in rural areas across the country. Why is this phenomenon not being widely reported in Evangelical church planting circles in our country? The problem, according to a recent report (Jan 2012) from the University of Dundee, is that the way we measure deprivation in our nation is somewhat faulty. For example, we read:

The conventional practice of using geographic units to analyse deprivation misses small pockets of deprivation in rural areas – when counts of deprived people rather than deprived places are used, the difference in deprivation between rural and urban areas is substantially narrowed.

How, therefore, is deprivation measured in Scotland?

According to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD), there are 7 key factors to take into account when looking at terming an area ‘deprived’:

  1. Income (based on the receipt of key, means tested benefits, tax credits or pension credits)
  2. Employment (based on receipt of out of work benefits)
  3. Health (based on deaths, receipt of sickness benefits, hospital admissions and drug prescriptions)
  4. Education, skills and training (Based on the level of qualifications, participation in education or training and absences from schools)
  5. Housing (based on overcrowding and lack of central heating)
  6. Geographic access to services (based on public transport and drive times to key services)
  7. Crime (based on recorded offences)

Urban Deprivation v Rural Deprivation

Does it make any real difference whether you live in a scheme in the inner city or on the outskirts of a rural town? Well, there some major differences it has to be said. For example, startlingly, we have discovered that geographic access to services (based on public transport and drive times to key services) is 10 times worse if you live in a rural scheme than if you live in an urban one.

There are some researchers who feel that the data used to define deprivation in Scotland is skewed toward urban and industrialised areas. So, for instance, the rural poor may live in a nicer area (and thus not be qualified deprived according to the majority of the 7 factors noted), but they are far more likely to be socially excluded and have a greater struggle with isolation given where they live. According to Dr Donald Houston from the University of St Andrews and Dr Alistair Geddes from the University of Dundee:

Deprivation in urban areas tends to be geographically concentrated in certain neighbourhoods. In contrast, in rural areas deprivation often exists at the scale of streets rather than whole neighbourhoods.

What does this mean for 20Schemes and our vision? Well, at the very least it means that we will be recruiting church planters and male and female gospel workers for rural schemes alongside urban ones. These rural areas may not feature high up on the SIMD but they are a high priority for us as we seek to plant and/or revitalise gospel work in all of Scotland’s needy areas. Watch this space for further discussion and developments on these and other important issues in the coming weeks and months.

(Much of this information has been taken from The Church of Scotland Mission & Discipleship Council Rural Strategy  – “Understanding Rural Deprivation Report”, January 2012)

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