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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"Small Church Essentials" (Karl Vaters)

TITLE: Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of under 250
AUTHOR: Karl Vaters
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2018, (256 pages).

It is no secret that in North America, many churches are either closing down or shrinking. It is also said that the single largest growing pool of believers are the NONES, the non-affiliated, non-church-going, and non-aligned group of people who still consider themselves believers. Statistics are dire with regard to the state of the Church. At the same time, there is a glimmer of hope. Small churches do have their strengths. As far as Jesus is concerned, the minimum number of believers to form a community with His Presence is two or three gathering in His Name. Jesus must have foreseen our modern world long time ago! While many of us would like to see numerical growth, we need to learn how to take care of churches that are under 250 in size, which is the majority of North American churches today. What is more essential is to learn the tools and principles about how to lead these congregations toward healthy growth and life. Karl Vaters is proudly a pastor of small churches for over 30 years. He is the goto guy for the small church guy. Though his church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship is located not far from megachurches in the area, he is convinced that small is good. Over 90% of the churches in the world are under 250 in size. About 1 billion people are in small churches worldwide, making small churches the single largest people group in the world! If that is so, why not focus on doing whatever we can to support and rejuvenate the small Church with big thoughts? This is exactly what the author seeks to do. Small churches must not let their size minimize their ministry. They need to see the greatness of God regardless of size. They need guidance on how to run a small church effectively and enthusiastically. What if small churches are centers of friendliness; neighbourliness; mission; innovational generosity; and worship? With these objectives in mind, Vaters proceeds to share how we can do just that.

Arranged in four parts, readers get an understanding ear from the author about the smallness of many churches. Just like the common saying, "down but not out," Vaters encourages readers that churches might be small but they are definitely not broken. On the contrary, this is the reality of Church ministry these days. A majority of pastors will pastor a small church, whether they like it or not. In fact, chances are most of us would never had the opportunity to pastor a larger church. Instead, there are many churches that are small for various reasons. Some are newly planted churches. Others are set up for a specific niche. Many due to socio-political reasons stick to house churches. Still there are those that are forced to be small due to limited resources and finances. The key is not to be distracted by the illusion of bigness but the potential of smallness. That is why the first three chapters of the book are aimed at changing the myth of bigness. Having settled that, Part Two begins the paradigm shift. Small churches are different in a good way. Being a great church has nothing to do with size. It has everything to do with attitude. What such churches lack for resources, they more than made up for creativity and innovation to work with what they have. Once our infatuation with numbers are dealt with, we are better able to look and work from our unique calling. We are better able to see eye to eye with many other churches who are similarly small. We are better able to learn and benefit from our calling. Part Three gives us practical tips about revitalizing existing small churches. This calls for strategic change to understand why churches are sized that way. Recognize what phase they are in. Prepare the roof regularly. Do not let small size discourage one from tackling big issues. Vaters gives us eight principles that are worth the price of this book. Leaders must not over-control but free members to be creative. Take time but not too much time. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Recognize that it is always God in control. We learn about the filling up through "worship, fellowship, and discipleship" and the flowing out through "discipleship, ministry, and evangelism." Vaters gives us wisdom with regard to existing ministries and new ministries to dare to try and start new ones, and to close old ones if necessary. Small groups too are discussed, and Vaters even said that small churches are a small group already by themselves! Part Four is the most exciting of all, to help churches become great small churches. We learn about welcoming people through the art of friendship and friendliness. We mentor and disciple one another through mentoring rather than curriculum. This means one on one connecting. We also learn about the planning process

Three Thoughts
First, numbers matter and that includes small numbers. Jesus loves all regardless of size. It is easy to take this book and start criticizing or belittling larger churches. No. That is not the intent. Though the author mentions something like churches with large numbers had diminishing returns, it is more to encourage small churches rather than put down large churches. In fact, the larger the church, the greater the emphasis on numbers because their assets and monthly upkeep of facilities would be greatly impacted with any sudden decline in numbers. More importantly, attendance is not for people to admire. In Church, people's hearts are what God looks at. Though numbers are important, people are even more important. Thankfully, people are not a mere number to look at but a whole person to love. Once this perspective is set, we are better able to overcome the false promises of size. Stand on the promises of God and not be distracted by numbers of people in the premises.

Second, this is a book written by a small church pastor for fellow small church pastors. A major point he made is this: "Big churches need to prioritize vision, process, and programs. Small churches need to prioritize relationships, culture, and history." I think the distinction is overly simplistic and all churches need vision, process, and programs. Likewise, big churches need relationships, culture, and history. Perhaps, it is mere semantics and readers would have to read the explanations before understanding Vaters's reasoning: PRIORITY. At the heart of it all is insecurity of the human heart. When a church is large, the pressure is to keep the church minimally the same. This calls for techniques and strategies to keep it that way. In contrast, smaller churches are encouraged to try new things without worrying about rocking the status quo.

Third, it is deeply encouraging. We need new and fresh understanding of what a healthy church is. Far too often, we have heard about churches being measured by the three B's: Bodies (numbers); Buildings (assets); and Budgets (financial strength). When we are free from being locked into these three Bs, we can progress to the three As: Acceptance; Appreciation; and Anticipation. The single biggest encouragement in this book is this: "Yes, Your Church is Big Enough." This is no longer about the size of the building but the size of the heart; no longer the bigness of the budget but the quality of our spending; not the multiplicity of activities but the singularity of purpose.

If you are a leader or a member of a small church, which most likely you are, this book is a godsend for you.

Karl Vaters is Teaching Pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, not too far away from Saddleback Church. He blogs on Christianity Today on Pivot. He is also author of "The Grasshopper Myth," a book that dispels the myth of small thinking in God's ministry.

Rating: 4.25 stars of .5


This book has been provided courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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