Small Churches Are a Big Deal (A Review of “The Grasshopper Myth”)

SGN book title 200c

Last month, Dixie Phillips, from “SGN Scoops” magazine, interviewed Karl Vaters about the origins of The Grasshopper Myth and

That interview, and Phillips’ review of the book, were combined into an article entitled “Small Churches Are a Big Deal”, which was printed on pages 25-26 of the April 2013 edition of SGN Scoops

Today’s post is a reprint of that review/interview. You can read the original article at

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Small Churches Are a Big Deal

by Dixie Phillips

SGN Cover 200cA seasoned saint once said, “God never looks at the size of the work, but at the love the leader pours into the work.”

Karl Vaters would agree with that statement. In fact, he’s written a book about his more than 30 years’ experience in small church pastoral ministry. Vaters searched for a book dealing with the unique challenges and joys of pastoring a small church, especially a book celebrating the value of small churches, without making the leaders feel they were inadequate and settling for less, but he never found one.

He read the usual pastoral help books and went to the numerous leadership seminars and conferences, almost all of which informed him how to grow his church. Afterwards, he returned home hyped-up and attempted to implement the new church growth ideas he had learned, but always plummeted into severe discouragement when the “formulas” for church growth didn’t work at his small church.

After years of not being able to duplicate the success of mega-pastors, Vaters grew cynical. His bitterness and anger was so toxic, he decided he needed to get some help through this “dark night of his soul.” It was during those difficult years, he jotted down some of his experiences, never once thinking he would ever share or write about them in a book.

One day he told his church board and staff at their annual leadership retreat what the Lord was teaching him. Afterwards his wife, Shelley, and his associate pastor hurried up to him and said, “That’s a book. And you’re the one who needs to write it.” Something clicked in his own heart and he penned The Grasshopper Myth. The secrets Vaters shares in this must-read book are for every Christian leader.


A Divine Strategy

Since writing the book and starting the ministry of New Small Church, Vaters has discovered small churches are a big deal. 90% of the churches in the world have fewer than 200 in attendance. 80% have fewer than 100. He’s convinced the small church is not a problem, but a divine strategy God wants to use for the edification and building up of the Body of Christ.

Vaters states, “Over one billion believers choose to worship God in a small church every week. Yet 99% of the books, seminars, classes, and conventions about how to do church work are written by megachurch pastors or from a megachurch standpoint. So 90% of pastors don’t know where to turn for help.”

Vaters insists he loves churches of all sizes, but feels the small church lacks cheerleaders and someone to speak out for the value they bring to the Body of Christ. “If everyone was writing about how great small churches are, but neglecting or demeaning megachurches, I’d probably start writing about how great megachurches are – and I’d mean every word of it.”


What Makes a Small Church Great

One of the reasons Vaters loves small churches is they are where he’s spent almost his entire ministry life. He has seen the long-term, deep relationships that develop among people of varying age groups, cultural backgrounds, races, and levels of spiritual maturity because, in a small church they aren’t separated from each other. Most church members love a smaller, more intimate church setting, but it is the pastor and church leaders who struggle with a church being small.

Small churches are also a great place for people to be loved as they grow and mature in their walk with the Lord. Vaters believes there are numerous people in ministry today who can point back to a small church that gave them an opportunity to experience “hands on” ministerial training, learning through their mistakes as they served.

Vaters’ insight into the overall condition of the local church is enlightening. He feels the single biggest factor for the long-term health and effectiveness of a church is the longevity of the leadership. He is convinced a church that changes pastors every few years is like a family that changes parents every few years. It’s not healthy for anyone. He believes the church and the relationships that fuel it don’t run on a short-term calendar.

When asked what he would say to a discouraged pastor of a small church, Vaters said, “I would tell them that their church is big enough—right now at its current size. With the people God has given them already.”

He warns pastors of the small church, “Stop trying to be a big church and start asking God how you can be a healthy church, an innovative church, a compassionate church, and a great church with what and who you have right now. You don’t need more people, “better” people, or a bigger building. Jesus changed the world forever with twelve uneducated, blue-collar guys who fought over everything including seating arrangements, and with no building at all.”


The Message of The Grasshopper Myth

The Grasshopper Myth was released two months ago and sales have been brisk. The responses from small church pastors have been overwhelmingly positive. Most of them say the same thing,

“I wish I’d had a book like this when I started in ministry. It would have saved me so much heartache.”

“The weight is off to perform. I can be who God called me to be.”

“Thank, God, someone is finally saying how I feel!”

Vaters has also received a couple of wonderfully surprising responses from a segment of people he never realized would be moved by his book—the retired small church pastors. They expressed to Vaters how the book has helped them realize they served well, even though their churches were never large. They were able to look at themselves in the mirror for the first time and realize they were not failures, but have finished their race well. Vaters is determined to dispel the myth that bigger is always better. “What a sad commentary on what our size obsession has done to so many of God’s finest servants!”

God uses ordinary people to do extra-ordinary things for His Kingdom. Vaters feels blessed that God has chosen to use his book and ministry the way He has. “All I did was write my story down. As it turns out, my story is a lot of other small church pastors’ stories.”

The message of The Grasshopper Myth isn’t just for small church pastors. Vaters believes this message needs to be heard by pastors of large churches, denominational officials, Bible college teachers and Christian leaders.

“We all have to get past our obsession with size. We unintentional insult small churches and their leaders when butts in the seats and bucks in the offering are our primary measure of success. I want small church pastors to be filled with hope.

“This is the best time in history to be the pastor of a small church. We have the technology that can connect us to each other for support and teaching. Plus, it can help us reach people who will never set foot in our churches, both across the street and around the world. If big churches and small churches can get past our territorialism, petty jealousies, and obsession with size, we can reach this generation for Jesus together.”

Karl and his wife, Shelley, will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in July. The couple has three children, Veronica (married to Sam Beaver), Matt, and Phil.

Many thanks go to SGN Scoops magazine, its editor Rob Patz, and especially to Dixie Phillips for this wonderful article.

– Karl Vaters

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