Community participation in health is consistent with notions of democracy. A systems perspective of engagement can see consumers engaged to legitimise government agendas. Often community participation is via consultation instead of partnership or delegation. A community development approach to engagement can empower communities to take responsibility for their own health care. Understanding rural place facilitates alignment between health programs and community, assists in incorporating community resources into health care and provides information about health needs. Rural communities, health services and other community organisations need skills in working together to develop effective partnerships that transfer some power from health systems. Rural engagement with national/state agendas is a challenge. Community engagement takes time and resources, but can be expected to lead to better health outcomes for rural residents.