Karl Vaters has been a small church pastor for 30 years. He’s written about pastoring small churches in books (“The Grasshopper Myth” and “Small Church Essentials”) and on Pivot, a Christianity Today blog. And, he’s the founder of NewSmallChurch.com, a blog that encourages, connects and equips innovative small church pastors. In Today’s Conversation, he joins Leith Anderson to share his experience and offer insight into how to pastor small churches well.

In this podcast, Karl and Leith discuss:

  • How small churches should think about growth and success;
  • The particular challenges, including finances, that pastors of small churches face;
  • What resources are available to pastors of small churches; and
  • Why we need more — not fewer — small churches in the United States.

Read a Portion of the Transcript

Leith: What are some common challenges that are particularly related to pastoring a small church?

Karl: I think the first one is discouragement. It’s very easy to feel “less than.” It’s very easy to feel you’re not having impact when so many of your peers are talking about numbers. And, when you look around on a Sunday — we often start a Sunday morning service with more people on the platform than in the seats — that can be very discouraging.

I think another one is finances. It’s just really hard to pull the money together. Most small church pastors out there are not being paid a full-time salary. They’re bi-vocational.

And then that leads to the third and maybe biggest challenge: time. Trying to be a two or three point pastor perhaps in some denominations where they are in charge of two or three churches, or even if you are just overseeing one church but having to work 40 or more hours a week at a secular job just to pay the bills.

There are a lot of pastors who do the Saturday night scramble for the Sunday morning sermon. It’s not because they’re unwise or bad planners. It’s because they have been working 40 hours a week at a secular job, spend a couple nights of the week doing Bible studies and small groups, and then Saturday night they get called to a beside or rehab for one of the church members or the family member of a church member. It’s really hard to get out of that place where you feel you are just spinning your wheels and getting it done last minute.

Those are probably the biggest challenges for small church pastors. The discouragement, the finances, and the time are really difficult burdens to get around.

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