I’ve been serving in a small church (less than 250 people is a small church), which is quite different from serving in a megachurch. So it was timely that the publisher sent me this book to review before it’s published. The book is Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters. It comes out March 6th.
If I could change the title of this book, I’d call it “Make Small Church Great Again” because that’s what it’s about. A few things to note. This is not a church growth book, i.e., how to make your small church into a big church. But also, he’s not defending how
There’s nothing wrong with a church being small, and he’s not saying it’s better or more intimate. And churches that suck can be big or small. He’s simply saying: You can be a great small church, and this is how you do it. He defines the “greatness” of a church, the health, not measured by growth, but measured by effectiveness. In addition, he doesn’t believe in the mantra, “If a church is healthy, it will naturally grow bigger.”
Although much of my ministry experience has been in big churches, I am aware that 90% of churches out there are easily categorized as under 250 (small church). However, I’ve realized that most conferences out there come from a big church point of view. From vision statements to game ideas, they are sourced from “successful” churches, i.e. “big” churches. There are unique challenges in a small church and particular issues that come up. But those are not specifically addressed, just a typical footnote I’ve heard so often “you may have to modify these ideas to fit your particular church context.”
From experience, those conference ideas from big churches actually work in every big church, regardless of denomination, tradition, or region, with very little modification. However, two small churches in the same area, in the same denomination, can be vastly different, needing vastly different strategies to work for change and discipleship. When those conference ideas and values need to be vastly modified, then you need a different type of conference. or a book.
Karl Vater’s insights and advice are very practical, coming from his experience of pastoring a small church for many years. After being discouraged many times that the church growth methods weren’t working for his church, he switched gears and perspective about the purpose of his church (and The Church). He realized it was possible, and very probable, that some small churches are healthy churches. But why?
Some parts of the book seem quite typical, e.g., give people a heads up before you start changing things. But he also writes about things that are not so obvious, and others that are surprising. For example, he says that not every small church needs a small groups ministry; that’s more a big church necessity. And if you’re creating a small groups program because you actually sense a need, not because the “experts” say you need one, then use your instincts. You may know more about implementing small groups at your church than the small group “experts” who don’t know the unique characteristics of your church. And if you can’t find someone else who will be trained to lead the small groups ministry, then forget about it, because you shouldn’t lead one yourself (burn out).
Also, churches less than 250 in attendance don’t really need mission or vision statements. The book also points out that “vision-casting” is done very megachurch style, and in a very Old Testament fashion, like Moses (the pastor) directing the people. It made me realize I was taking the ever-popular vision-casting verse out of context “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Prov 29:18), and the only time most of us quote from the KJV.
Before doing new things, get rid of the old things. We have limited space. not just physically, but also emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. Before creating new programs, make space for it, or see if the “closet” is big enough. Either revamp ineffective programs or close it down.
Yeah, really good insight that I haven’t read elsewhere. Plus, he gets to the point. I’ve noticed an upward trend in new Christian books of 2018: the author starts off each chapter with a long story or two. This book doesn’t do that. He acknowledges that small church pastors are way too busy to read books for enjoyment, so he gets to the point and writes matter-of-fact.
Actually, this book has little value for pastors working in megachurches. However, for those in small churches, it will serve mostly as an encouragement, and as a side, some helpful tips on making your church strong and effective. Well worth the read!
I would like to thank Moody Publishers for sending me a copy of this book.