What I'm Reading: 006 -- Small Church Essentials

What I’m Reading by Matt Schuler
006: Small Church Essentials by Karl Vater

Karl Vater lists the ingredients for a healthy church midway through his book Small Church Essentials. There are two: love and worship Jesus; love, serve and make disciples of other people. Certainly, they’re a reference to Jesus’ listing of the two greatest commandments. Any church of any size can be healthy, or start getting healthy by loving God and loving others.

As I’m thinking about my own small church while reading through his book, Vater challenges me in the way I lead, the way I act and the way I encourage others. If I’m focused on size or growth as a motivator, then I’m likely going to fall on my face and fail. If I’m focused on faithfulness or love, then God’s going to do what He does. For the small church, like Holy Cross, Vater encourages us to ask ourselves, “Our church is small, now what?” How has God positioned us in our community, in our history and with our resources to reach out and share His love and grace with our families, friends and everyone we meet?

“There is no single factor more important for the health and strength of a small church than healthy relationships — with Jesus, with each other, and with the people you’re trying to reach.” Small churches can be an incredibly intimidating place to enter. To soften the experience he encourages the members and leaders at his church to give every guest who comes a GIFT, which stands for greet, introduce, follow up, and thank. It seems simple, but it helps create a welcoming environment, and the foundation for real relationships.

“Not every church is called to be bigger,” Vater writes. “But every church is mandated to do effective ministry, and every church can.” We shouldn’t settle for status quo, but Vater encourages our limitations should spark us to become more creative. Are we limited by size, volunteers, funding? Probably, but we can ask what God has already provided to us to do what He has commanded.

As a small church, we can’t do everything or be everything to everyone. We’ve had to stop some ministries and rework others in order to better match what God has gifted us. Vater recommends that you run ministries through trial periods, to test out new methods, and to make sure the ministry is doing what it was meant to do. “Great churches don’t happen by mistake. No matter what size they are,” he writes. “They take prayer, planning, hard work, cooperation, and the calling of God.”

Regardless of the size of our church or our building, I guarantee that there are people living in the community it’s in who don’t know Jesus. Vater challenges me when he writes, “most of the dreams we have for our churches are too small because too many of them end at our church doors.” It asks the question, are we doing ministry to get people in the church building or are we doing ministry to share the love of Jesus? Vater cautions, “we need to be careful not to let our church buildings kill our church. The facilities exist to serve the church, and the church is the people.” We are reminded the church is not simply a building but rather the people whom God has called to love Him and love others, and the ones He sends from our homes and church buildings into our communities.

“Jesus calls every church and every church leader for a purpose, and He equips us with everything we need to accomplish that purpose. You and your church don’t need one more member, one more dollar, or one more square foot of facility. You don’t even need a facility, if your church doesn’t have one.” What we need instead is a boldness to do what God calls us to do. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. May we, as Christians, respond to His call, remembering that every church, small and large, is part of His Church.