LCMS | Costa Mesa, CA | June 2020

Small Church conference (PSW District of LCMS)

Taught by Karl Vaters

Session 1: Redefining Success In Ministry


What is The Grasshopper Myth?

The false impression that our small church ministry is less than what God says it is because we compare ourselves with others.

All the people we saw there are of great size. …We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. – Numbers 13:32-33


Three undeniable realities of pastoral ministry:

  • Reality #1: 80-90% of churches will never be larger than 250 people
  • Reality #2: Virtually all pastors will pastor a small church for at least some time in our ministry
  • Reality #3: You can lead a small church well, without settling for less

Don’t fall for IKEA Envy


Small is not a problem, a virtue or an excuse


Bigger fixes nothing


Over 1 billion people choose to worship Jesus in small churches

  • The church needs to embrace its “long tail”

Pastoring a small church is not a penalty for doing something wrong

  • It’s a specialty, and it’s worth doing well

Session 2: Big Churches, Small Churches – What’s the Difference?

Over 90% of our churches are under 200, over 80% are under 100

  • First Reaction: Oh no!
  • Second Reaction: So what?
  • Final Reaction: Now what?

People will come to small churches, but they won’t give up quality to do so

  • Quality looks different in a small church than a big church

Many big church principles don’t translate well to a small church context

The law of large numbers: the bigger the crowd, the more predictably it behaves


Big church principles center on process, systems & programs


Don’t do what our founders did, think like our founders thought


Session 3: How To Discover What Your Church Does Well


The pastoral Prime Mandate: to equip God’s people for works of service (Eph 4:11-12)

The three essential elements of a healthy, effective church: The Great Commandment, Great Commission and Equipping God’s people

  • Unhealthy churches aren’t doing the Great Commandment, the Great Commission or equipping God’s people 
  • Loving, but ineffective churches are doing the Great Commandment, but not the Great Commission or equipping God’s people 
  • Overworked pastor and passive members when we’re doing the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, but are not equipping God’s people
  • Healthy, effective churches and pastors are doing all three

Do what you know to do, pay attention to what works, and why


After you discover what your church does well, do it on purpose


Use the “closet rule” for ministries: Don’t add a new one until you’ve dropped an old one

  • What does your church do well, that you would like to do more of?
  • What does your church do poorly, that you would like to do less of?

Move out of a destination mindset and into a process orientation


Session 4: COVID-19: What’s Working In Churches That Are Thriving

(The following notes are from chapters 3 & 4 of Karl Vaters’ new book, The Church Recovery Guide: How Your Congregation Can Adapt and Thrive after a Crisis, coming July 7, 2020)


Smaller churches need to:

1. Respond Contextually
2. Minister Personally
3. Prepare Continually


Churches that are responding and thriving during the pandemic have:

1. Resources in reserve
2. Team-based leadership
3. Adaptability

For more resources on leading a smaller congregation through uncertain times, check out SPARK Online at KarlVaters.com.


We’re all experiencing multiple levels of severe trauma

Denial >> Anger >> Bargaining >> Depression >> Acceptance


Everyone has a default reaction to trauma


Recognize your own trauma first

  • Be a pastoral presence

When times are normal, leaders inspire change

  • When times are disruptive, leaders provide stability

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