Book Review: Small Church Essentials

Small Church Essentials by Karl Vaters

This was lent to me by a member along with the previously reviewed The Grasshopper Myth. Both of these books cover a lot of similar material, and spend the bulk of their time pushing the basic point that size is not the sole determinant of a congregation’s health or success. While the last several decades have seen large congregations and mega-churches held up as the pinnacle of faithful pastor leadership (if you’re doing a good job, obviously you’re going to get bigger, right?) this is not only not necessarily true, it is overwhelmingly true less often than not.

A lot of pastors need to hear this because both implicitly and explicitly the goal of being a large congregation is out there in pastoral ministry. And when you’re struggling to care for a small flock on a small budget it’s easy to look longingly at the lush grass of a mega-church where money isn’t a problem and there are enough programs and staff to utilize a massive campus every day of the week.

Vaters makes the much-needed point that while large congregations are all well and good it is fallacious reasoning to presume that all congregations should become large or that small congregations are somehow deficient. Different sizes provide different dynamics that appeal to different people, Vaters argues, and properly so.

Vaters than gives advice for building on the strengths a small congregation likely possesses in terms of friendliness and intimacy, both good suggestions. He warns about the dangers of allowing a building to dictate what a ministry can and can’t do – a problem I’ve witnessed in multiple congregations and always to unfortunate results.

This is a handy book for both lay people and pastors to help alleviate the shame or disappointment that can come in comparing a small ministry to a large one. Better to focus on what small congregations can do well (and there are several things) rather than on what they can’t do.

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