Recently, I drove from Tyler, Texas, to Houston and back. Driving down to Houston, which is about a four and a half hour drive by one route, you pass through a number of small towns whose populations are anywhere from two or three thousand to thirty thousand. The other route is about a three and a half hour drive. You drive through hardly any towns. The first route is a more interesting drive. As you pass through these towns, you see some of them are apparently reasonably successful, while others look as thought they are struggling.
It is the other route that is more significant. The towns that you pass through are under five thousand in population. As you drive through, you wonder what it is that keeps these towns alive. There appear to be no major industries. There is some agriculture, but it is all relatively small-scale. There are no movie theaters, although there are video rental stores. There are no supermarkets. There are no large churches, although there may be a reasonably sized Methodist Church or Baptist Church. But on the whole, these towns look as though they are dying. In all likelihood, they are dying. The problem of a dying town is a familiar one in heartland America.
Why do these towns die? They are dying all over the nation. This is not a recent phenomenon, nor is it confined to the United States. There is apparently a kind of critical mass that a town approaches, either on the upward or downward cycle. At some point, the town either attracts sufficient population to keep growing almost automatically or loses population almost automatically. Let us consider the problem of the small town that is losing population. The division of labor shrinks within the community. Specialized occupations begin to move out. One of the first to go will be the physician, usually when he retires or dies. No one will replace him. A major problem that the small towns face all over rural America is the absence of medical care. The small number of people in the community cannot support a hospital, and in some cases cannot even support a small clinic. Other occupations also suffer similar declines of business.
In stark contrast is a growing metropolitan area. As more and more people stream into the city, more and more specialized occupations become profitable. Individuals can serve each other on a cost-effective basis because the specialized skills of the suppliers can more easily be matched with the specialized demands of the buyer. Per capita output increases, and therefore per capita wealth increases.
Consider entertainment. What is there to do after seven in the evening in a small town? Go to the local Dairy Queen. That is just about it. In a city, there are lots of things to do. This wide availability of urban alternatives is true not only in the field of entertainment but also in terms of the number of churches, the number of manufacturing concerns, the number of service industries, and all other aspects of a modern economy. The increase in the division of labor enables people with very specialized tastes and very specialized skills to get together and make a voluntary exchange.
This economic specialization increases people’s wealth by increasing their ability to serve each other. This increase in the various areas of service is basic to modern capitalism. It is also basic to the development of successful churches. The goal of all economic organizations is service. This is also the goal of all ecclesiastical organizations. A large or growing metropolitan area will enable people who want to serve each other in particular ways to find it less expensive and more profitable to locate other people who desire to purchase these services.
The Problem of the Small Church
In the Wall Street Journal (March 20, 1991), an article appeared on a particular religious organization that operates in Texas and Tennessee. I happen to know the founder of this organization. (It is not a church.) The little group is ostensibly Christian, but it no longer preaches the divinity of Christ. Furthermore, it preaches the Talmudic doctrine that non-Jews are under a specific set of laws. These laws must be obeyed, but they are not the biblical laws that are aimed specifically at Jews. The founder of this religious organization is an expert in the Talmud and other Jewish traditional religious sources.
(for the rest of my article, click the link.)