Welcome to Can This Work In A Small Church!

This is a podcast

  • by small church leaders
  • for small church leaders
  • about small church leadership

Available on all major podcast platforms, including:


Just click on the link for your preferred podcast platform. Episodes are available b-weekly. Hosted by Karl Vaters.


Click any drop-down for more info or to listen to the episode.

Gary Garcia and I have another conversation. This time, we talk about Pastoral Transition from a unique persective.

I was Gary’s lead pastor for 25 years, then we transitioned to Gary being the lead pastor, while I stayed on the pastoral staff with him.

In this episode Gary and I talk about

  • Why that happened
  • How we did it
  • How it’s been going since

Some key points about making a successful pastoral transition will include:

  1. We need to know God is calling us to do it, even if it’s outside our comfort zone.
  2. We must spend the necessary time to talk, think and pray about it. It’s better to do it well than do it fast.
  3. Each needs to support the other. The former lead pastor must truly let go of control, and the new pastor needs to honor the past without being intimidated by it.

Gary Garcia and I have a unique relationship. We’ve worked together at the same church for 29 years. For the first 25 years I was his lead pastor. For the last 4 years he’s been my lead pastor. Yes, at the same church.

Because there’s so much ground to cover, we’re taking two episodes to do it. In this episode we talk about

  • Keys to staying in ministry long-term
  • Embracing change to keep things fresh
  • Working together as your lives and your roles change
  • Advantages of staying in ministry – and in the same church – for the long haul

Tom Harris is the co-author of Soaring Between Pastors: 8 Actions to Thrive During a Pastoral Transition. He also serves as the president of IPM (Interim Pastor Ministries).

He and I talk about the importance of interim pastorates, including how an intentional interim can help prepare a church to hit the ground running when they call a new pastor.

This is a hugely important subject. I encourage you to send this podcast to:

  • Any church that’s experiencing an interim season
  • Any seasoned pastor who might want to serve in this vital field
  • Anyone who oversees a group of churches

Rich Brown is the author of Extended Stays: A Closer Look at Longer Pastorates. He has served for decades as a pastor and in Christian higher education. Currently he serves with IPM (Interim Pastor Ministries).

In this conversation, we talk about why long-term pastorates are good for the church, the pastor, the pastor’s family, and for the community we’re called to reach.


  • Some shocking stats about pastoral tenure
  • Why a series of short-term stays can be problematic
  • How to make a long-term stay effective for everyone
  • How to grow deeper through transition without relocation

and more.

In addition to being a small church pastor and authoring/co-authoring several books, Matt Henslee has recently been appointed to leadership in his denomination (Southern Baptist Conference) on both a regional and national level.

We talk about how this happened and how important it is for all church groups, including denominations, to make a place for small church pastors in leadership.

While Matt never sought out these positions, he did do some things that put him into a place where he was recognized for his contributions. His advice for those who may be called to similar positions from a small church includes

  1. Do solid ministry in your current church
  2. Show up – get engaged in the process
  3. Offer positive ideas and solutions in your denominational meetings

Some of Matt’s books

His recommended website

Matt’s Info

Jean Morgan, a small church pastor who wrote a Masters thesis about the correlation between a pastor’s personality and the size of the church they serve.

In this conversation, Jean and I talk about

  • The way he made this assessment
  • The initial results
  • The possible impact of his results for us as small church pastors

What we discover is that our effectiveness in small church ministry is less about our personality type and far more about

  1. Our feelings of effectiveness
  2. Listening closely to our calling, not to the outside voices that tell us we need to hit certain numbers
  3. How God can use any personality type to accomplish his will for his church


Karl interviews Lori Andrews, Ed.D. about trauma, its effect on the brain, and how to use this information as we lead through challenging times.

Topics include:

  • How can we help people cope with the constant flow of low-to-moderate-level trauma?
  • The value of consistency in worship services.
  • How to help kids prepare for children’s services.
  • The neurobiological benefits of corporate worship.

Links From This Episode

Karl interviews Drew Dyck about Writing for Ministry, including

  • The differences between preaching and writing
  • How to get started writing for ministry publications
  • What book publishers are looking for (including from small church pastors)

Drew has spent decades as a writer and editor for major church publishersand is the author of several books, most recently, Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (A Guide for Sinners, Quitters, and Procrastinators).

Links from this episode:

Greg Atkinson is one the world’s leading voices in First Impressions for churches. He also wrote “Secrets of a Secret Shopper: Reaching and Keeping Church Guests” as a guide for small churches.

In this conversation, Karl Vaters interviews Greg about

  • The importance of an online presence
  • How everyone in a small church is on the First Impressions team
  • Why small churches may need to work harder on First Impressions than our big church friends
  • A few tips for small churches to increase their first impression with little or no money

The second of a two-part series in which I share lessons from hundreds of small church pastors about responding, recovering and thriving through a challenging season.

In this episode I cover the four essential principles that have made the differences between

  1. Churches that struggled the most during the pandemic, and will continue to struggle in the future, and
  2. Churches that have stayed healthy, become stronger and are likely to thrive into the future.

There’s a lot of talk lately about recovering from the very difficult series of events we’ve all experienced over the past two years. And understandably so. It will take years for us to get a grip on what has happened, what’s still happening and how it’s still changing everything.

In this two-part series, Karl Vaters shares several lessons about responding, recovering and thriving through a challenging season. This information comes from hundreds of conversations he’s had with small church pastors, denominational leaders and others over the last 18+ months.

In this episode (Part 1) Karl covers:

  • The two dangerous extremes people have found themselves in – and the path to health again
  • The two keys for churches to recover and thrive in the coming years
  • The three most important principles for small churches moving forward

Craig Forrest has spent decades shooting and editing film and video for ministries and network TV. He’s passionate about helping people communicate the message of Jesus in a compelling way. In this interview I talk with him about video ideas and tips that can be used in any size of church on a limited or nonexistent budget.

I especially love Craig’s ideas about getting out of the church building to shoot video that catches people’s attention in a crowded media landscape.

A free-flowing conversation about the importance of Small Church Conferences. Ironically, it’s our biggest podcast in several ways:

  • Our longest, at just over an hour.
  • The most guests ever (four plus me and my wife, Shelley, for a total of six people).
  • Easily has more laughs-per-minute than anything we’ve done yet.

The conversation covers:

  • Why they started their small church conferences
  • What big church conferences can do to include the needs and voices of small church leaders
  • First steps if you want to host a small church conference

Click here for more info, including show notes.

This is a great conversation about the important subject of Decision Fatigue. You know, that exhaustion you feel when there are Just. Too. Many. Decisions. To. Be. Made. And. No. One. Else. To. Make. Them!

Because of Ira’s ministry experience, we were also able to compare and contrast the different challenges faced by small church leaders in urban, suburban and rural contexts.

And be sure to listen through to the Lightning Round at the end. Ira’s comments about how older and newer generations deal with authority figures is leadership gold!

A church’s culture is “the unwritten set of rules that governs everything a church does.”

In a big church, the pastor and staff set the culture, but in a small church it’s set by the long-time regular members and attenders – even if they don’t know they’re doing it.

In this episode Karl Vaters talks about the three steps that will help a small church pastor lead a church through a culture shift.

  1. Show them you understand their culture
  2. Show them what you appreciate about it
  3. Then you will get limited permission to participate with them to lead and shape it

An interview with Doug Bursch about his new book, Posting Peace. It’s all about how social media is impacting us so much that it even changes how we see ourselves and relate to each other. But Doug also offers hope for how we can be peacemakers and reconcilers in our online behavior.

As the first interview episode of this podcast, I introduce the Lightning Round questions, with questions and answers that are both profound and a little bit of fun.

Yes, small churches can be strong, healthy and effective. In this opening episode, I look at the three main issues that must be in place in order for that to happen.

  1. Realize you can be effective.
  2. Discover how small churches function differently from big churches.
  3. Understand and use the unique DNA of your small church for God’s glory.

Why would someone create a podcast called “Can This Work In A Small Church?” Because small churches are different. A lot of what we learn from our big church friends needs to be tweaked for the small church environment. And sometimes they need to be done completely different.

In this episode your host, Karl Vaters, introduces you to what this podcast is about.

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If you have any ideas for subjects guests that might fit this podcast, let us know.


Veronica Beaver | KarlVaters.com

Music composed and performed by
Jack Wilkins | JackWilkinsMusic.com

Podcast logo created by
Solomon Joy | Joyetic.com

Shelley Vaters | KarlVaters.com

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