My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Karl Vaters, who pastors Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley California, writes for Christianity Today, and founded NewSmallChurch.com, is at it again with his new 256 page paperback, "Small Church Essentials: Field-Tested Principles for Leading a Healthy Congregation of Under 250". Very much like his previous book, "The Grasshopper Myth," the author energetically and thoughtfully encourages small churches and their pastors, but moves more into practical ways to be a thriving church.
"Small Church Essentials" begins in familiar territory, showing how being small does not mean being broken. In the first three chapters Vaters addresses the reality that over 90% of churches in North America are under 250, and that this is a good thing. "Let's stop acting like we're embarrassed by all the small churches in the world. Maybe there are so many small churches because they're God's idea, not our failure" (20). This shift in focus is an extremely significant one, and needs to be trumpeted across the amber waves of grain, over the purple mountain majesties, and above the fruited plain!
In the next four chapters Vaters tackles the dynamics of smaller churches; how the lesser the number of people in your congregation increases the impact of personal and relational idiosyncrasies and peculiarities; and ways to increases your congregation's capacity for effective ministry. In these chapters the author pops some balloons of misplaced notions: getting bigger fixes problems, all church growth and church leadership principles should work in ever church no matter the size, and paying close attention to attendance numbers is overly important. As I read these chapters I found myself being challenged, but also richly encouraged. In fact, while working through the sub-section titled "God Doesn't Take Attendance" my spirits were lifted and I was brought into a season of prayer and thanksgiving!
Chapters 8-12 of "Small Church Essentials" walked through loads of ideas and plans . The author discussed what he sees as indications that your church might be stuck; how to know if your congregation really needs a small group ministry; examining what your church does well and ways to do it better; the need to always be improving; and small church vision-casting. This third section of the book is packed with suggestions and promptings to modify your fellowship's way of doing ministry.
The final chapters look at simple ways of helping your small church to become a great small church. Vaters examines some easy-to-fix aspects making your congregation more welcoming. He also addresses mentoring and discipleship and planning. The author promotes the important notion that we should think more about doing ministry from the church and not just in the church. And the writer leaves the reader on the high-note that your church is big enough for what God wants it to do! "Your church is big enough to minister the healing grace of Jesus to its members, and you have enough members to take that grace to your community in an overflow of joy, hope, and healing. Pastoring a small church with passion and joy is not settling for less, it's about doing all you can with everything you've been given. Now" (251).
Since all church renewal and renovation programs arise from a specific set of conceptions as to what "church" is, and what the sacraments are, "Small Church Essentials" is no exception. Vaters writes from with the Pentecostal stream, and therefore the third section of the book (Chapters 8-12) approaches changes and ways of doing church and ministry from within that stream. Those with a high ecclesiology and sacramentology, such as Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, will likely find this portion the least helpful. But the author recognizes from where he is writing and acknowledges that not every recommendation he posits fits every liturgical and theological system.
"Small Church Essentials" is a valuable manual! If your pastoring a small church, you need to snatch up a copy immediately. This is a book that ought to be in the hands of young ministers, older clergy, elder boards, and seminarians. I happily commend it to you!
My thanks to Moody Publishers for sending me a copy of the book used for this review, upon my request. The thoughts and recommendations in this review are mine and freely given.
A copy of the book can be purchased here: Small Church Essentials
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