Welcome to The Church Lobby: Conversations on Faith & Ministry!

Every two weeks Karl Vaters interviews a church leader about the topics that concern pastors, especially those who minister in a small church context.

We call it The Church Lobby because

  • The church lobby is where the church meets and does ministry
  • The church lobby moves conversations from the stage to the floor
  • The church lobby is a good place to take the temperature of a church’s health

Most of our real-life conversations about faith and ministry happen in church lobbies, both as a congregation and pastor-to-pastor. In The Church Lobby podcast, that’s what we do.

Check out the full episode list, below.

Do you have any ideas for guests you’d like to hear a conversation with? Let us know by filling out the Feedback Form, below.

Available bi-weekly on all major podcast platforms.



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

Our brains are the most important, but least understood part of our body. In this episode, I interview Michel Hendricks about the fascinating place where faith and brain science intersect.

Michel is the co-author (with Jim Wilder) of The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnationwhich I listed as one of my top ten books in 2023.

If a conversation about brain science sounds intimidating, it’s not. Both the book and this conversation put the cookies on a low shelf for all of us.

This is the second of two very special episodes.

This episode features the message I preached in January 2024, on the day our church honored Shelley and me for our 31 years of serving the church on staff.

I talked about what we’re doing next, including why God has called us to the ministry of Helping Small Churches Thrive. It includes some of the key points we teach to Small Church Pastors, like:

  • The Theory of the Long Tail
  • The Grasshopper Myth
  • The Pastoral Prime Mandate
  • and more.

The message ends with one of the most touching stories I’ve ever heard about a Small Church Pastor who, like so many others, is one of the unsung heroes of the faith.

This is the first of two very special episodes that we’re doing in back-to-back weeks instead of our usual bi-weekly schedule.

In January 2024, Shelley and I were honored by our home church as we ended 31 years on the pastoral staff. The first 25 years as lead pastor, six years as teaching pastor. This, and the next episode of The Church Lobby are taken from that Sunday service.

This episode features an on-stage interview, in which Gary Garcia (Cornerstone’s current lead pastor), asks me about our time at Cornerstone. It’s a helpful look at the value of longevity for the pastor and the church and some insights into how we did such a healthy pastoral transition.

A little over a year ago, A.I. came into our lives in a big way. Suddenly, it seemed to be everywhere.

In this episode, I talk with Jason Moore about what A.I. is, why it came into our lives so suddenly, and what its strengths and dangers are. Then we spend the bulk of this slightly longer-than-usual episode with Jason physically walking us through using A.I. in real time on his computer screen.

This is a great episode to watch on our YouTube Channel, but we also describe everything verbally, so you’ll get all the key information if you’re listening to audio only.

Everyone has an opinion about live streaming, pro or con. As I sift through it, I only want to give a platform to the most helpful, thoughtful voices, and Tim Fox is one of them.

In this podcast, we talk about the content of a Facebook post Tim wrote that challenged the reasons most churches live stream their services, while offering some thoughtful alternatives.

Pastors need to read, not just for information, but for formation. Austin Carty and Karl Vaters cover topics like:

  • The importance of reading many types of books, not just works of theology and leadership
  • How reading helps us become more mature, wise, and caring
  • How reading the Bible with a sense of wonder helps embed its truths into our lives
  • How important it is to take reading seriously, not a luxury, or as something I squeeze in around ministry, but as an essential aspect of growing in life, faith, and ministry 

Links from this episode:

Just showing up in people’s lives is such an important aspect of life and ministry.

Karl Vaters talks with Drew Dyck about why this is so important, as outlined in Drew’s new book, Just Show Up: How Small Acts of Faithfulness Change Everything (A Guide for Exhausted Christians).


  • The value of our physical presence in pastoral ministry
  • The importance of quantity vs quality time
  • How showing up is not the end game, it’s the onramp for healthy life and ministry

Burnout is a huge issue among pastors. But did you know there’s a simple (but not simplistic) way to start addressing and reducing burnout? And that your congregation can help you with it?

That’s the premise of Karl Vaters’  conversation with Josh Taylor, based on his book, A Preach Well Church: How Churches Can Stop Burning Out Pastors.

Josh and Karl talk about what causes ministry stress, and how to start relieving that stress by doing the two primary tasks pastors are called to do – preaching and prayer.

There are so many books about how to turn a lifeless church around. Most concentrate on the pastor’s role. But what about the role of the congregation members? In small churches, this is especially important.

I talked with Bud Brown about how to help the congregation become agents of life and hope in a dying church through the power of prayer, from the content of the book, Lifeless to New Life: Biblical prayers to resurrect the lifeless church.

  • The importance of praying the evangelistic prayers of the New Testament
  • Preparing the soil to receive a fresh vision
  • How to help a congregation embrace deep transition, not just surface change

Links from this episode:

In a recent survey, 80 percent of respondents said “yes” to the question, “since serving on a church board, do you feel your spiritual life has declined?” Why is this happening, and what can be done about it?

In this episode, I talk with Dave Beckwith about How to Turn Your Board Meetings Into God Meetings, including

  • How our current corporate style of board meetings isn’t just unbiblical, it’s causing great harm to boards, pastors and the churches they serve
  • How to shift to a more biblical model
  • How to choose church leaders in a more biblical way
  • Advice about the best board sizes and term limits

Links from this Episode:

With people attending church less frequently now, you average Sunday attendance represents a smaller percent of your regulars than ever befofe. And it affects how we pastor them and what they expect of the church in ways we may not realize.

I talk about this with Chad Brooks, a co-vocational pastor, blogger at RevChadBrooks.com, and the host of the Productive Pastor podcast, about:

  • Why church size matters— but not in the way you think it does
  • How to determine how many people you’re actually pastoring, since it’s changed a lot in the last couple years
  • Why the main weekend service may no longer be the wide end of your church funnel, anymore


In this solo episode, I share 22 lessons I learned on my recent sabbatical that will help you if you’re considering one yourself. Including:

  • How long it should be
  • How to prepare for it
  • What to expect, emotionally and mentally
  • How to fade in and fade out of it slowly
  • and more

For a sabbatical coach, go to SeanNemecek.com.

Karl Vaters talks with Brady Shearer, summarizing a report about church trends and church size and what they mean for small church ministry, including:

  • How stats don’t tell you a church’s story, but they can help you see things you might not otherwise pay attention to
  • Good news about racial, age and ethnic diversity in churches over the last 20 years

Plus, Brady uses his technical skills from his work with Pro Church Tools, to help churches navigate the biggest time of change in the last 500 years, including huge recent shifts in the way social media promotes content that can be a big benefit to your church.

Greg Atkinson is the author of several books, including The Secret Power of Kindness: 10 Keys to Unlocking Your Capacity to Change the World. Greg is probably most well-known as one of the leading church experts on hospitality and First Impressions.

In this conversation, Greg talks about his brave choice to end the cycle of abuse he inherited from his family and choose kindness instead. Plus, he answers several important questions, like

  • What is kindness?
  • Why is kindness so powerful?
  • Practical ways to become a kinder person

Links from this Episode:

How to Find Greg:

  • greg@gregatkinson.com
  • Socials – @gregatkinson


Bonus Chat (on YouTube, available to donors and newsletter subscribers)

Karl and Greg talk about Why is Unity in Such Short Supply in the Church?

In this video chat, they address some important trigger issues that Greg writes about in the last chapter of his book, including racism, politics, and more.

 To get the link for the bonus chat, subscribe to the free weekly newsletter at KarlVaters.com/Subscribe or become a monthly supporter at KarlVaters.com/Support

Forgiveness may be the most desired, but among the least understood virtues found in scripture, and in life. 

Karl talks with Dr. Bruce & Toni Hebel, co-authors of Forgiving Forward: Unleashing the Forgiveness Revolution, about the power of forgiveness, including some ideas that may feel counterintuitive. So lean in and hear the biblical foundation they’re building on. It may even reframe this entire issue for you.

Karl talks with Dianne Finkelde, the author of several books, including Unlock Your Bible: The How-to Study Guide for Everyday Christians.

Karl and Dianne talk about, not just the importance of reading the Bible, but how to read it in a way that the everyday person can understand it, appreciate it, and do what it says, including:

  • Letting the Bible explain the Bible
  • Hearing God as he speaks to us through its pages
  • How to remember what we read
  • Going deeper with character studies, word studies and more

In this solo podcast, Karl talks about the importance of taking extended breaks as pastors.

Also, he talks about taking his upcoming sabbatical, the first in over 40 years in ministry. It’s not because of burnout, but to avoid burnout.

Karl talks about:

  • Why he’s taking a sabbatical (and why they matter for pastors)
  • An important lesson on time management from the life of the Apostle Paul
  • What his sabbatical will look like
  • How he plans to get the most out of it
  • How he plans to report afterwards about lessons learned

Karl Vaters interviews Sallie Guillory, the author of YouTube Strategy for Churches: A practical guide for your church to reach more people through YouTube.

We talk about some extremely practical ideas to use the world’s biggest video platform and second largest search engine to help people find your content, including:

  • How to get more mileage out of the content you’re already creating
  • Creating videos that answer the questions people are actually asking
  • How to create short videos from longer presentations
  • Why simple and helpful is more important than having high production values

And more.

Karl Vaters interviews Dale Sellers of the 95 Network, about some of the important issues facing small churches as we come out of the pandemic and look ahead to 5-10 years of fallout, including:

  • The need for rest and soul care for pastors
  • Why the expected wave of pastoral resignations hasn’t happened
  • What to do instead of chasing absent members
  • The importance of accurately defining your congregation’s current reality

Karl Vaters interviews Michael Clary about the dangers of what he calls Elitist Christianity.

This conversation was inspired by a Twitter thread Michael wrote in which he confessed to an arrogant attitude he had developed as a young, successful church planter. Michael found himself looking down on pastors and Christians who hadn’t had his training, even though they were the people whose shoulders he was standing on.

His vulnerability, confession, and repentance hold great lessons for all of us.

Karl Vaters interviews Ryan Lokkesmoe, a church-planter and the author of a new book, Paul and His Team: What the Early Church Can Teach Us About Leadership and Influence.

We talk about what we can learn from the way Paul worked with his ministry team, and how those lessons translate to ministry today. Including:

  • How Paul dealt with conflict, not seeing people as enemies to be defeated, but as people God loves and who can be redeemed just as he was redeemed.
  • Paul’s Kingdom Diplomacy as seen in a very helpful, eye-opening walk through the short, but challenging book of Philemon.
  • How Paul’s teaching and life match each other in the way he dealt with people.
  • How Paul prioritized constantly handing ministry off to the next generation.

Karl Vaters interviews Sean Nemecek, author of The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout: A Journey from Exhaustion to WholenessIn this episode we’re talking to pastors who are wondering if they might be dealing with burnout in ministry.

Sean walks us through the following steps:

  • What is burnout, and why does it seem to be on the rise, lately?
  • How do I know if what I’m struggling with is burnout?
  • How do I take steps to recover from burnout?
  • How do I protect myself from future burnout?

Karl Vaters interviews Brad Roth, a Mennonite pastor in rural Kansas, blogger at DoxologyProject.com the author of God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church.

Brad and I talk about four of the main emphases of his book, namely:

    • The importance of rural church
    • Acedia (the spiritual “blahs”)
    • The significance of place
    • A new way to measure growth

Karl Vaters interviews Craig T. Owens, a pastor, author, co-host of the podcast “The Craig and Greg Show”, and a blogger at CraigTOwens.com.

Craig and I talk about the subjects addressed in his recent book, Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics that Really Matter, including:

  • Using biblical metrics for pastoral ministry
  • The tendency to lead based in confidence or humility
  • The essential nature of sabbath in a life of ministry
  • The relationship of wisdom to shepherding
  • The importance of overcoming guilt as a motivator for decisions in ministry

There’s also an important undercurrent throughout the episode about putting our servanthood into action first, knowing that only then will a servant’s heart follow.


Karl Vaters interviews Daniel Sih about three areas that are having a massive effect on our lives and ministries:

  • Clutter
  • Neuroplasticity
  • The stories we tell

Daniel offers great Bible-based insights into how we can acknowledge these challenges, offer a far better alternative, and minister in ways that answer people’s deepest needs.

But first, we need to get and stay healthy, ourselves. Stop living by the world’s stories, and find ourselves immersed in the bigger, better story God is telling.

Karl Vaters interviews Gary L. McIntosh, president of the Church Growth Network, professor at Talbot School of Theology (Biola University), and prolific author.

We talk about the principles in his just-released book, The Solo Pastor: Understanding and Overcoming the Challenges of Leading a Church Alone, by narrowing in on five of the main streams running through his book:

  • The relentlessness of being a solo pastor
  • How influence works in the solo-pastor church
  • What expectations people have of the solo pastor
  • Our connectedness to the congregation
  • The great hopefulness of solo-pastoring

Karl Vaters interviews Erik Reed, a pastor in Nashville TN, about a Twitter thread Erik wrote on excellence in smaller churches.

Erik and I talk about:

  • The dangers of small churches trying to imitate larger churches
  • The attractiveness of authenticity
  • The importance of investing our time and resources wisely
  • Examples of what small-church excellence actually looks like

Karl Vaters interviews Dan White Jr. about why we need a complete rethinking of how we do church, from the current, popular ways of seeing it as an institution or a series of programs, to seeing it as the movement Jesus intended it to be.

Specifically, Dan builds the case for a new type of leadership he calls Polycentric Leadership. The church is not a place, it is a movement. A movement of God’s people. And the key to regaining it is discipleship.

Welcome to the introductory episode of The Church Lobby: Conversations on Faith & Ministry! (formerly, Can This Work in a Small Church?)

In this bonus episode I talk about some of the big news coming from this ministry over the next year or two, including the reasons for the podcast name change, such as:

  • The church lobby is where the church meets and does ministry
  • The church lobby moves conversations from the stage to the floor
  • The church lobby is a good place to take the temperature of a church’s health

Most of our real-life conversations about faith and ministry happen in church lobbies, both as a congregation and pastor-to-pastor.

In The Church Lobby podcast, that’s what we’ll continue to do, always keeping the emphasis on the small-church perspective.

In this special bonus episode, I have no guests. Instead, I talk about . . .

  • The three big reasons we’re changing the podcast from Can This Work In A Small Church?
  • What the new direction will look like
  • What the new name of the podcast will be


Karl Vaters interviews Darrell Stetler, a small-church pastor, father of seven, and creator of NewStart discipleship curriculum – written with the needs and strengths of small churches in mind.

Darrell and I talk about the importance of discipleship in the life of the church – and as a central role in our calling as pastors.

Some key topics include:
• The importance of helping people create discipleship habits, not just filling their heads with information
• Making sure to see discipleship as a whole, not broken into individualized pieces
• The essential role that mentoring plays in discipleship – especially in the early days of someone’s walk with Christ

Plus, Darrell’s way of describing new believers as infants in Christ provides a fresh insight that is especially fresh and helpful from a pastoral perspective.

Karl Vaters interviews David Zahl, author of Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It.

It’s a wide-ranging conversation about how the religious landscape has changed in our culture, but not in the ways you may have thought. According to David, we haven’t become less religious, but the objects of our worship and the rituals and rules around that worship have changed from vertical to horizontal.

If you are a church leader, this will help you get a handle on some of the confusing shifts in attitude and behavior that may be frustrating you as you attempt to lead a congregation.

Specifically, we narrow in on the subjects of:

  • Busyness
  • Parenting
  • Politics
  • Jesusland

and how each of them may be playing themselves out in disruptive but subconscious ways in our lives and congregations.

Karl Vaters interviews Alan Briggs, a pastor, the author of Staying is the New Going, the host of the Right Side Up Leadership podcast and StayForth.com.

Alan and I talk about why geography matters in church leadership. Especially in an increasingly-mobile and increasingly-electronic world, staying planted where God put you is more important than ever for effective, incarnational ministry.

Staying in a church long-term may have its challenges, but they are far outweighed by their advantages – for the church, the pastors, the pastor’s family, and the community they’re called to serve.

Some important topics we cover include:

  • Why are American pastors especially transient, and what problems does this cause?
  • What does it mean to choose to be a local even if you aren’t a native?
  • The importance of “faithful presence”
  • Why sabbaticals matter, and why doing them with a plan is essential

Karl Vaters interviews Aron Utecht, a pastor and the host of the Good Ideas for Churches podcast. We talked about some of the positive trends Aron is seeing in the church and among pastors, including refocusing on mission rather than obsessing over methods.

We also talked about the value of podcasting for pastors and churches, including what questions we must answer before we’re ready to ask “should I start a podcast?” (Hint: sometimes the answer is “no”.) In a lot of situations the best use of our limited time and energy may be to invest ourselves even deeper into the church and the surrounding community with low-tech, hands-on touches.

Aron encourages us not to get enamored with the tools and toys. Know what God has called you to do, then do it in the best way you know. If that’s a high-tech answer, fine. But if it’s old-school pastoring – which it will be for most of us – stay faithful in that.

Karl Vaters interviews

Rick Hiemstra, a former small church pastor, now serving as the Director of Research at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Rick and I talk about a wide variety of subjects, including the Church Growth Movement, technology and how it has affected the way we approach pastoring.

Some helpful insights include:

  • What has people’s attention is what shapes them, and technology has radically altered what has our attention
  • How technology has shaped people’s expectations for their church and their pastor
  • How technology subconsciously changed pastors from shepherds to content producers
  • The important difference between “growth” and “scale”
  • How small churches are especially suited to meet the changing needs of a world whose attention is so easily diverted

And much more.

Karl Vaters interviews Ron Klassen of the Rural Home Missionary Association (RHMA) about seeing the unique nature of the small church, not as a problem to be solved, but as a strength to leverage, and even to exploit.

Here are a few highlights:

  • Small churches have unique ministry gifts that shouldn’t be seen as problems to fix, but as positives to exploit.
    The relational aspect of small churches is something we need to lean into, not shy away from.
  • It will even make you come across as a better preacher!
  • A lot of small church ministry happens off-book and outside of organized programs. Exploit that.
  • Don’t take intergenerational relationships for granted. And don’t push back against them. Exploit the value of them by being intentional about them.

If you know a small town or rural church leader who could use this encouragement and these ideas, pass this episode along to them. And pick up Ron’s book, Maximize! Leveraging the Strengths of Your Small Church.

Karl Vaters interviews Matt Whitman, host of the Ten Minute Bible Hour podcast and YouTube channel.

Matt is a passionate Bible teacher who takes scripture very seriously, while keeping a light-hearted and light-handed approach to it.

We talk about the intersection of Bible teaching/preaching and pastoral care, including why everything Matt does in his ministry is to point people towards the Bible, Jesus, and the local church.

This conversation also covers:

  • The importance of our online presence
  • How to avoid the temptation of living by “clicks”
  • Taking care not to get stuck wandering down political and theological rabbit trails
  • Why teaching about the Bible is as important as teaching from the Bible

Karl Vaters interviews Matt Steen, a former pastor and church planter, now with Chemistry Staffing, a ministry that helps churches find great staff members (and helps staff members find great churches).

The episode is filled with practical advice, including

  • What’s changed in pastoral transition/placement over the last generation
  • How the pandemic has accelerated pastoral transitions
  • The five key principles to look for when looking for a new pastor or church

Of special help will be how Matt describes the difference between “close-fisted” and “open-handed” theological issues, as well as the importance of giving churches time to get used to a pastoral departure, and to get ready for a new pastor.


Karl Vaters interviews John C. Nugent about the important question, has the church been called to separate ourselves from the world, to change the world, to fix the world, or something else entirely?

John is the author of several books including Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World Is Killing the Church. He is a professor of O​ld ​T​estament studies at Great Lakes Christian College, and co​-​host of the After Class Podcast.

John’s approach helps us understand where common misunderstandings about these issues come from so we can address them lovingly and biblically. He also frames these issues according to the entire story-arc of scripture, rather than just proof-texting.​

Karl Vaters interviews Cory Hartman, co-author of Future Church: Seven Laws of Real Church Growth about what happened when church growth answers didn’t work for him or the church he served.

His background and experiences will sound familiar to most small church leaders. And this conversation will be very encouraging.

In this conversation, Cory and Karl talk about 

  • How Cory, a “failed” small church pastor co-authored of a book about church growth (including redefining what “failure” really means)
  • The essential distinction between what he calls Upper Room and Lower Room churches
  • The four “can’t miss” answers for church growth, and how they did miss for him 
  • How he redefines some important terms like “church growth”, “success”, “discipleship” and “conversion” in more biblical ways

And more

Karl Vaters interviews Dr. Sandie Morgan, co-author of the new book, Ending Human Trafficking.

We talk about how healthy churches are uniquely positioned to help prevent human trafficking, including:

  • What signs to look for in people who may be vulnerable
  • How to partner with other agencies and law enforcement
  • How to set proper policies
  • Why we need to pay more attention to labor trafficking, not just sex trafficking
  • How to find resources in our neighborhood

And so much more, including a take on the biblical story of Elisha and the widow (2 Kings 4) that any pastor can preach from to help your congregation understand the importance of this issue and how to prevent it.

Dr. Morgan is also the host of the Ending Human Trafficking podcast, and the director of the Global Center for Women and Justice at Vanguard University. She also served by presidential appointment on the Public-Private Partnership Advisory Council to End Human Trafficking.

Karl Vaters interviews Dr. Gary McIntosh about Donald McGavran’s role as the pioneer of the Church Growth Movement (CGM).

But don’t let the term “Church Growth Movement” stop you from listening. As the author of the superbly-written biography, Donald A. McGavran: A Biography of the Twentieth Century’s Premier Missiologist, Dr. McIntosh helps us to see that the origins of CGM are far different than what most of us have been taught.

Some of the misunderstandings he clears up include:

  • That it came from the heart of a missionary, not a pastor
  • That it was about being cross-cultural, not omni-cultural
  • That it was focused as much or more on the impact of smaller congregations than the building of bigger ones

Karl Vaters interviews Austin Savage about a subject that many of us have seen only through a negative lens. Namely, marketing.

Austin helps us see that when it’s done right, marketing is simply making sure your message gets put into the marketplace (that is, out to the general public) effectively.

You may know Austin from the work he did with 95Network.com, including several years co-hosting the 95Podcast with Dale Sellers. Recently, he established Austin Savage & Co. to help churches with creating content and using media in the church.

In this conversation, Austin and Karl talk about

  • The difference between marketing and promotion/advertising
  • How to put the content your church is already creating into the marketplace in creative ways
  • How to get started without costing any money

So, your church has a Facebook page? In a small church, that should be enough of an online presence, right? Wrong.

It finally happened! The answer to the question, “Can This Work In A Small Church?” isn’t “yes”! (Well, not entirely, anyway.) Find out why as Karl interviews Josh Givens about why having a Facebook page isn’t enough, no matter what size your church may be.

Topics include:

  • The importance of getting online
  • Why we must stay connected to the people we meet there
  • Why we must invest money and time to own online real estate (a website)
  • The importance of the pastor’s personal online presence
  • How much your church communicates before people step inside the building

Josh is the Communications Director for 614Ministries.org and for Northside Bible Church, a healthy small congregation in the outskirts of Mobile Alabama.

Have you ever considered the parallels between fighting fires and pastoring a church? Of course you have – metaphorically.

In this episode Karl interviews Jon Sanders, who has literally done both. And the lessons he shares about those parallels are really helpful, especially for rural and smaller congregations.

Jon is the founder of SmallTownBigChurch.com, co-host of the EntrePastors podcast, and author of Rural Church RESCUE: A Call to Restore Healthy Churches to Rural North America.

The conversation covers the principles Jon learned as a firefighter to help churches better understand how to do ministry that matters.

An interview Dr. Vincent E. Gil, the author of A Christian’s Guide Through the Gender Revolution: Gender, Cisgender, Transgender, and Intersex.

Dr. Gil taught human sexuality and counseled at a conservative Christian college for 38 years. He has been a consultant on sexual issues for church leaders and denominations, and is himself a licensed minister.

This is a sensitive subject that often causes division, or gets ignored due to some of the complexity and concerns. In this conversation Dr. Gil and I talk about how to understand the current “gender moment” and negotiate a better way than taking sides on issues.

Our conversation addresses issues of concern to pastors and provides a dialogue on how to approach varied sex/gender concerns in congregants and beyond.

An interview with Jeff Hamilton, founder of Dad Academy. We talk about the importance of helping men become the dad they want to be by becoming at least as intentional in their parenting as they are in their job.

Topics include:

  • Why “Dadding” is so important and so challenging
  • The importance of having an intentional plan
  • The impact of building a positive culture in your home by creating a more Christ-like value system

A special bonus episode of Can This Work In A Small Church? in which I introduce you to our next podcast project, a limited series that’s not just for church leaders, but for church members.

It’s called the Bible-Reading Coach, and it’s designed to help anyone read through the Bible in a year. We want to help you as you lead your church members to become more biblically literate, and reading the Bible for themselves in an essential step.

In this introductory episode I walk you through how this new podcast will work, including:

  • The three biggest reasons most people who start reading the Bible don’t finish it
  • How this podcast fixes those problems
  • How to make it from Genesis all the way to Revelation this time

Peyton Jones is a church planter and church planting specialist. He’s written several books, most recently, Church Plantology: The Art and Science of Planting Churches, which is the basis for this conversation.

Peyton and I talk about a lot of issues regarding church planting, but mostly about how most of our common perceptions of church planting are built on a faulty foundation. Not a church planter? Don’t let that stop you from listening. There’s a lot in this for every church leader.

Peyton has such a passion for the church, but I love that he has his priorities on order. That it’s about biblical principles before business ideas, listening to where God is leading you, not trying to copy what others are doing, and making disciples before planting churches. If we do this, a lot of churches who didn’t think they could plant, actually can, and a lot of existing churches can actually learn something about their own church situation by applying “so old they’re new” church planting principles from scripture.

Jason is the founder of the Both/And seminars which helps churches of all sizes create a better worship experience for both the online audience and the in-person congregation.

In this conversation, Karl Vaters talks to Jason about how a church of any size can use online and in-person church to make each a better experience for worshipers. If you’re having a hard time with your online experience, or even if you’re doubtful about its value listen to Jason’s heart, his experience and his ideas, including…

  1. How online worship has gone from being expensive and rare to a common and essential aspect of church ministry – leaving many of us to play catch-up.
  2. How to ensure that the online church experience doesn’t to detract from in-person worship, but can add to it.
  3. The need to readjust the goal of church from getting people in the room to getting the message out.
  4. The fact that the main roadblock to a high-quality online/in-person experience isn’t money, it’s intentionality.

Karl and Matt talk about some of the biggest recent issues in these important areas – you know, the things we hate to deal with, but need to take care of. Thankfully, Matt knows how to talk about them in compelling, clear and applicable ways.

This conversation will help you know that you and your church are not alone if you’re facing these issues, where you can go to get help, and how to be proactive instead of waiting for something bad to happen.

Bob has a heart for Jesus, for the Gospel, for all kinds of people, and for the role of the small congregation in fulfilling God’s mission.

In this podcast, we have a free-wheeling conversation that touches on many subjects, all of which can help every church and every church leader.

Some of Bob’s encouragement for small churches includes this helpful advice:

  1. Find a need God is calling us to reach
  2. Connect that need to the current DNA of our church
  3. Love people in Jesus’ name
  4. Change our thinking and our structures to match what God is doing now

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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Veronica Beaver | Veronica@KarlVaters.com


Composed/performed by Jack Wilkins | JackWilkinsMusic.com

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Created by Solomon Joy

Shelley Vaters | Shelley@KarlVaters.com

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