If you are new to a rural area, building community can be a challenge. So how does one go about building community in a rural area? Here are five tips for building rural community.
Building Rural Community
There are a lot of wonderful things about living in a rural area. But there are also unique challenges. One thing that can be difficult in a rural area is building friendships and community.
While this can be a potential challenge to anybody who lives in a rural community, it can be a bigger struggle for a newcomer to a rural area.
My family moved to a rural area several years ago. It was a new experience for us. Coming from a more urban/suburban setting, we found that the social code was a bit different out here and that the dynamics of the community are different.
When we lived in the city it seemed like everybody was searching for community. People tended to get together for dinner gatherings and play dates in order to create and build community.
It took some effort in the city to find a group of people, but honestly it was not too difficult. Because there are so many people and so many opportunities to get to know others based off of common interests.
On the other hand, what we found in our rural area is that people are not really actively looking for community.
People already have friends that they have known all their lives. And families are close knit and see each other often.
It was a stark contrast. In the city, people longed for community and actively sought it out. In the country, people are basically born into their community and therefore do not need to seek it out.
Now as a disclaimer, I want to say that this is a broad generalization. And I am speaking from my own experience. But these are the observations that I made in these two different settings.
So if a newcomer moves to a rural area, how to they build friendships and relationships?
What my family discovered is that it takes extra effort and more time to build rural community.
But the trade off is that once you start establishing friendships, you will find that they are extra meaningful. Because living life together with other people in a small community is really special.
It is hard to put words to it, but walking through the highs and lows and the happiest and darkest moments as a community bonds you together in a unique way.
And knowing that your neighbors have your back and are always ready with a helping hand, well, it is something we never fully experienced until we moved out here.
How to Build Community in a Rural Area
1. Get Involved
My first tip is to get involved. When living in a rural area, it can be easy to live in a bit of a bubble on your own place. The most important thing you can do to meet people is get involved in the local community.
While small communities may have less opportunities, there are still many ways to get involved. Think about what your rural community offers and consider getting involved.
This could be through the local school, local church, sports, or other community organizations, such as the library.
In fact, the library is a great place to meet other people in the community. You all know about my love for books. Is it any surprise that I am telling you all to visit the library?!
Take your kids to storytime, attend the art class for adults, or join the Friends of the Library to support the library. Our library serves as a nice little hub for our little community.
Another great way to get involved in a rural community is through the youth organization 4-H (I wrote a whole post about our experience with 4-H).
4-H has been a great way for us to build community on a wider scale. Since it operates at the county level, this has helped widen our circle and allowed us to meet more families within the county.
2. Support Local Businesses
Another great way to build community in a rural area is to support local businesses. This point has two benefits.
First of all, you get to support local businesses and help people in your community earn their livelihood. The second is that you will meet more people as you are out and about in the community.
So go ahead and visit the local cafe, visit the barber on main street, go to the little local grocery store. Whatever businesses are in your area, consider keeping your dollars local so you can support your community and get the benefit of meeting people.
3. Get to Know Your Neighbors
This point is probably the most important of all the tips. Get to know your neighbors, plain and simple. These are the people who will have your back.
The concept of “neighbor” in a rural area can be a bit of a loose term. And depending on where you live, your closest neighbors may live several miles away.
We have several neighbors who live on our road. But we tend to extend the term a bit more to anybody who lives within about a 3 miles radius of our home.
It has taken some time for us to get to know our neighbors, and there are still more neighbors we have yet to meet. But some of our most valuable relationships have come from our neighbors.
Our neighbors are the ones who take care of our animals when we are out of town. They are the ones who drive their skidsteer over and drill 15 three foot holes for our deck foundation.
They are the ones who check on us if anything looks awry, and they are the ones who stop by with a loaf of homemade bread, just to say hi and see the progress we’ve made on our house.
They are the ones who invite us over to their house in the middle of a polar vortex because they know its a bit chilly (that’s an understatement) in our camper. They are the ones who give up their Saturdays to help us build our house.
They are the ones who invite us over for Thanksgiving because they know we don’t have any plans. They are the ones who tell us we are always welcome to just walk in their house and use their basement as a storm shelter, anytime we need it.
Rural neighbors are somethings special.
And we have been so blessed by this unpretentious bunch of people who have taken us under their wings and loved us and cared for us.
4. Expand Your Geographic Circle
While I may be able to wax poetical about our great neighbors, another tip for building rural community is to expand your geographic circle.
There is a lot to love about living in a small community, but you may benefit by looking outside of your immediate community in order to build stronger friendships.
In general, when one lives in a rural area, one has to drive a lot more to get just about anywhere. You kind of get used to being in the car for at least 30 minutes for every jaunt you take.
That being the case, we found that it felt somewhat natural for us to expand our geographic circle and also build community with people who lived a bit further away from our immediate community.
We found that expanding the circle enabled us to meet more people with common interests to ours. While we wish that our closest friends lived a bit closer to us, the reality is that with exception to a few people, the people that we are closest to, for the most part live 20-30 minutes away. In fact, one family that we are very close with lives an hour away from us. But that does not stop us from seeing them regularly.
5. Be Patient and Persistent
This is a simple, yet very important reminder to keep in mind. Be patient and persistent. It takes time to meet people and build up trust.
The more you are around people and the more you get involved with your community, the stronger your relationships will become.
I can tell you it is well worth the wait. For awhile we very much felt like we were on the outside looking in.
But by putting ourselves out there, introducing ourselves to people, getting involved with our church, and simply being present in the community, we have made great strides in building our rural community.
Keep the long term goal in mind. Building a rural community is more of a marathon rather than a sprint.
How about you? Do you have any experience living in a rural community? Are there any tips that you would add? Share them in the comments below!