Karl Vaters is a fan of small churches. He says interesting things about the potential and value of smaller communities of faith. Some of his points are deeply important, others I approach with a degree of caution.

In a recent post, based on two reality tv shows in which celebrity chefs attempt to revive small struggling restaurants, Karl Vaters  identifies five things that he believes will help small churches. His whole post should be read here: See: http://newsmallchurch.com/. But here are a few of my own reflections on Vaters’ “Seven unexpected ways to church health.”

  1. Simplify the Menu

Stop trying to emulate the menu of ministry choices offered by big churches. It’s better to have fewer choices, suited to the gifts of the pastor and volunteers, meeting specific, current needs of the church members and the surrounding community.

Simplifying is a great goal. But, in order to identify what can be trimmed we must be clear about our purpose. Why do we have church? What is our primary goal as church? What do we need to let go of in order to focus on what we believe is our true calling?

  1. Cook Fresh and Local

Vaters applies this particularly to the task of preaching. But it is vital for any area of ministry in a healthy church. We inhabit a particular locality as a community of faith. We need to listen carefully to the realities of our location. We need to take seriously and respect the challenges and struggles of the people among whom we minister.

  1. Ask for Help

Asking for help means, accepting help it when it is offered, even if that help may not come in precisely the shape or form I may have chosen.

There are times when it may appear more efficient and effective to just do it myself. The help offered may not be as polished and professional as I might hope. But churches are communities of shared ministry in which every person’s freely offered contribution must be deeply valued.

  1. Work Smarter, Not Harder

For me, working “smarter” requires keeping my eye on the goal and giving myself to those tasks that I consider likely to further the real goal of the church rather than simply pleasing someone or catering to the most pressing need. What do I believe church is really for? How can I most effectively support this goal? It requires courage and strength to “work smarter, not harder.”

  1. Clean and Repair

Vaters means here that we need to be concerned about with how our buildings look. It is true buildings do present the public face of our community. But, in the end, it is the vibrancy, authenticity, and warmth of what goes on inside our buildings that will be attractive much more than how “clean” and well-repaired they may be.

In fact buildings can be a massive distraction and enormous burden. Curiously, under his point #7 Vaters argues, “Great pastors don’t obsess over their building (or lack of a building), their title or their status.”

  1. Do What No One Else Is Doing

Look around your neighborhood. What do people need that no one is providing?

This risks being trite and artificial. No one will be attracted to any community for long simply because that community has looked around, found a niche that is not being filled and twisted itself into the appropriate shape that makes it possible to fill that niche. We need to find that life that is genuine to who we are and live that. Healthy churches will be known by authenticity much more than  market appeal.

  1. Rediscover Your Passion

Great pastors love Jesus and love people. Never sacrifice that for anything less.

This is clearly true but Vaters takes it in a direction that makes me uneasy:

A church with a pastor who loves Jesus and loves people is a place others want to be part of.

This seems dangerously pastorcentric. Any suggestion that it might all be up to the pastor and that if only the pastor is a loving person, people will be attracted to the church is a dangerous route to take. A healthy church is always a cooperative effort in which every person listens deeply to God and makes the contribution they feel called to offer.

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